18/06/2018 09:07 SAST | Updated 18/06/2018 09:28 SAST

Malema, The Indian Thing And My Growing Silence

The EFF's online army makes the Gupta bots look like amateurs.

Julius Malema.
Julius Malema.

I've always considered myself a black South African. And, of late, just a South African as I eschew the damaging identity politics of the day. I am a non-racialist, trained and committed and am completely out of step with the culture wars we fight for hegemony and dominance. I believe in African leadership according to our constitutional dictates of equity and humanism. Our founding fathers gave us the baton to reach a country where we would rise above our racial identities toward an ubuntu that now seems hopelessly unreachable and unteachable as a new politics comes to define us.

It has taken me years to find a point of comfort in my old politics, one that sits lightly on my heart; I have made frenemies of friends for this and some pretty powerful ones, too.

So, it's strange to find myself so silenced and shamed by the EFF's new campaign against Indians. Why is this? For one, it's bloody scary. My Indian surname, opinionated Twitter timeline and the DNA helix I had no part in making or shaping have drawn me into this new race war. Everywhere, with others, I am tagged into it as if the EFF commander-in-chief Julius Malema and his various lieutenants mean us as he strings up this new anti-Indian campaign that is catching flames across social and old media.

The other day, somebody tagged me into a social video featuring elements of the Mahatma Mohandas Gandhi's racism and asking what I was going to do about it. On Friday, Eid Day, a man on Twitter sent me a direct message saying I deserved a bullet and should just shut up. It's two of hundreds of online attacks that have happened after the anti-Indian campaign started.


The EFF's online army makes the Gupta bots look like amateurs.

At the weekend, Malema was at it again: he blamed unnamed "Indian journalists" for building a digital posse against his deputy Floyd Shivambu who attacked the Treasury deputy director-general Ismail Momoniat, as a "non-African" for allegedly lording it over black African leaders of the department even though they deny it. I'm one of the journalists, even though I'm not Indian.

Yes, I tweeted in Momoniat's defence and my opinions resonated with lots of people. Not because he is Indian, but because he has a long and gracious history of service both in the anti-apartheid movement and in the National Treasury where he formed part of the revolutionary guard that pushed back when state capture was at its worst. But facts don't matter as they didn't when Malema told a rally earlier this year that I earn two salaries as part of his campaign against alleged racism at the Sunday Times. I don't even earn a single salary any longer, but Malema neither checked nor apologised.

His power is increasingly unchecked and so I guess I retreat into silence. Perhaps out of fear. Perhaps out of shame. I'm still working it out but I hope it stops soon for it's not a good citizen position to sit in and one entirely foreign to me.

I've watched myself go quiet and retreat; fail to engage the debate or make a tweet and I wonder why. Of course, I know the feudal conditions that people who work for Indians can often toil under because I live in Mayfair in Johannesburg and I speak to people there. I know Lenasia too. As a young community activist, we, of all hue, would campaign against this and build barriers across race and class through literacy groups, union organisation and a personal practice that was and is both legally and morally based.

Of course, I know that Indians tend to marry Indians, although I know many who made wonderful mixed masalas instead. As a mixed person, I've hit this barrier head-on with boyfriends who would hide me from their "pure" Indian family. Colourism, tribalism and the ridiculous prejudices that stretch back to which Indian village you came from are practices I was born to rebel against and which I've spent a life doing. I hate boxes of any kind and increasingly I feel boxed. I mix with people who break boxes.

But why do I feel the need to even write or think or say these things when attacked as an alleged racist Indian? I know I'm not. So, what's going on here?

Understanding it is a work in progress, but here's some of what I think is happening. It started when the ANC, which is supposed to own the mantle of non-racialism, started breaking up its people into a majority (black Africans) and ethnic minorities (Indians, coloureds and whites). All the major political parties organise along the same lines; none have broken the barriers, they all enforce them.

The way that dominant politics is emerging is that "ethnic minorities" are meant to know their place; to not have a national voice; to be quiet and docile in the face of a majority and to retreat into their enclaves and remit both their emotions and politics to their home countries.

I guess this is why I keep getting told to "go home" these days. Where to, I wonder? I've been to India many times and I couldn't feel more foreign. I only feel at home in South Africa and there is no greater joy for me than returning to OR Tambo airport from travelling. It is where I am from; it is what and who I am. So, perhaps that explains my silence in the face of this racial bullying — I am dismayed and scared at being digitally prodded out from and silenced in the only home I know.

These are unusual and abnormal feelings for me to hold and so I find myself chastened, scared and quiet. This is not a good thing. I hope my voice returns soon.