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Post - 2021-07-21

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Secular politics and the spirit of ubuntu is everywhere

OPINION

AMI NANAKCHAND Nanakchand is a journalist.

AT A TIME when the beleaguered governance of the country is coming to terms with the civil disobedience; road barricades; looting and arson of state infrastructure, shopping malls, industries, commercial businesses and private homes, it was politically rewarding or expedient for some politicians not to recognise that civil society and our democratic government were gripped by a pre-existing racial, ethnic and communal polarisation. One of the historically-minded politicians referred to the 1949 Indo-African riots to gauge the atmospherics of that time. What was the spark that triggered the unrest? On Wednesday, July 7, former president Jacob Zuma was jailed for his offence of contempt for the Constitutional Court. Zuma has applied for the verdict to be rescinded. By the weekend, the jury was still out on the outcome of the application. The next day, ripples of public anger over Zuma’s incarceration spilt onto the streets of mainly the business sector. Shops were ransacked and torched in Durban. The mayhem spread to other parts of the province and to Gauteng’s African residential areas of Soweto and Alexandra. The police were tardy in responding to the mob hysteria. Eventually the hot spots were transformed into militarised zones with the deployment of platoons of troops to reinforce police contingents. Who says Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom was a well-crafted but macabre Hollywood fantasy? According to the narrative, we hear from at least one alarmed politician and a ragtag of professionals who may be reading and re-reading dusty copies of William Shirer, Ian Kershaw and Richard Evans, South Africa in 2021 is exactly where a European country was in 1933. The only difference is that in 88 years a white paintbrush has evolved into black. Like the third force, which the ANC used to warn the country about from the months preceding the emergency under the apartheid regime, sections of Durban had been engulfed by something resembling a great fear. For some politicians and intellectuals, it is the great fear of a narrative change and attendant losses of privileges that came from being part of the larger white consensus. Whether all the diverse fears will coalesce to give the thumbs-down to the challenger is best left for assessment in the coming months, particularly after the October local government elections. Frankly speaking, it does not matter very much if the majority treat the electoral outcome as a wake or a memorial meeting for those minority politicians with their cynical politics that have outlived their political utility. What is more relevant is whether the unending alarmist propaganda has a more sinister objective – to create panic among South Africans of Indian descent. This is what is happening. What some people hoped would be a conflagration to reinforce a ghetto mentality abruptly went out of control and led to scores of deaths and large-scale dispossession. Ideally, the anger of those who saw their belligerence backfire horribly as the clashes spread to the residential areas should have been directed at the political leaders who cynically used them as cannon fodder. Unfortunately, they have been encouraged by the entire non-secular establishment to view the KZN and Gauteng riots as a trailer of what is to come if the Ramaphosa administration does not submit to the whims of the radical economic transformation forces. It had become a common refrain to decry the paucity of leadership in the country. In the past, lots of trees had been spent on the matter. But last week the entire reading public was bereft of newspapers as the wetstone (in the old days newspaper pages were laid out on the lead template) ground to a halt. It was the running thread in our week of shame. The past week had also seen unprecedented media attention being lavished on Phoenix, virtually none of it being favourable. Clearly there are – and for some time have been – serious threats to the security of the predominantly Indian residents and business people. What is the obligation of a government to its people? Is it to lord over them, or to be of service to their interests? Judging by the grievances of the people, the government was as culpable of the lawlessness. It was as if the forces of law and order had gone on leave or taken leave of their senses. The government failed those who were attacked or those who died. Not for many a year have people of all faiths and persuasions rallied to defend themselves, their homes and their assets. Not for long have they stood in solidarity to ensure nobody was without food or shelter. Food depots reminiscent of the post-World War II years were established. Even when judged by our permissive standards, last week’s outpouring of across-class and faith spontaneity was extraordinary. Mosques were guarded by Hindus and Christians. Churches and temples were shielded by Muslims. The only exception this time around was the Indian South African communities where ties of family, neighbourhood and religion are deterrents to waywardness, failure was an unaffordable indulgence. The spirit of ubuntu prevailed. South Africa’s secular society was intact.

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