In 2005, I wrote an article titled, ‘State of the Nation’, after a trip to South Africa at the invitation of the Jamiat ul Ulama where I met and addressed hundreds (perhaps over a thousand or more in total) of Ulama, businessmen, scholars, teachers and parents in Johannesburg, Cape Town and Durban. I also met and addressed exclusive groups of political, community and business leaders in these cities. After that trip, I documented my impressions and made an analysis of the situation of Indian Muslims in South Africa (with a special focus on Gauteng Province) in the hope that it would be useful to those who cared to read it. I am attaching a link to that article for anyone who is interested in it. It makes for interesting reading as a comparative article to what I am writing here to see what has changed in the past 12 years.
Since then, I have travelled to South Africa every year, with two trips in some years (including this year 2017). I have spoken at two National Conventions of the Association of Muslim Schools, the National Convention of IMA, at several meetings organized by Al Ansar, Minara Chamber of Commerce, University of Kwazulu Natal (Business school), Jamiat ul Ulama, MJC and delivered more Juma bayans than I can recall. During these trips, I have once again had the privilege of meeting and speaking to a cross section of South African Muslim society that most South Africans don’t have access to. Of special note is my meeting with the late Ahmed Kathrada who spent over two hours talking about his experiences in the Freedom Struggle and the challenges that Free South Africa faces and asked me many probing questions. At the end of that meeting, he said to me, while giving me a signed copy of his memoirs, ‘You are a very peculiar Maulana. But we need many peculiar Maulanas like you.’ I cherish the memory of that meeting and consider his comment as a badge of honor.
During all these trips, I have listened more than I have spoken, learned more than I have taught and benefited more than I could have imagined. I therefore feel it to be a responsibility on me to share that learning and my analysis of what I see happening in South Africa in these past 12 years. As that is half of South Africa’s lifespan as a free, independent nation, I believe it is important. I leave it to the reader to decide.
n Please read the article on this link:
n Then ask:
n What has changed since 2005?
n Which of these recommendations have been acted upon?
Leonardo Da Vinci says, “It had long since come to my attention that people of accomplishment rarely sat back and let things happen to them. They went out and happened to things.”
I believe it is time – it was time 20 years ago – high time, for South African Indians to wake up and take stock of who they are, what their value and relevance is to society and what they need to do about it. And to remember that value is determined by the receiver, not the giver. Value is a factor of market perception. If you want to know your value, you need to ask others.
I would like to begin by giving an example of the Parsee community in India.
Parsees of India
n < 1%
n Highly respected, highly influential
n Highly educated
n Top 5 employers/tax payers
n Top 5 wealthiest
The key word here is ‘contribution’. What goes without saying is that the contribution is done in a way that is clear to all concerned, highly visible and highly appreciated. In one word, if one were to ask, “If the Parsees of India and all that they represent, disappeared from the land, would that make a difference to the people of India?’ I don’t think that is a question that takes much thought to answer, if you live in India. Just to drive home the point totally, imagine India without Tata and Godrej; just two Parsee names. I rest my case.
I would suggest that you do the same analysis with South African Indians. Ask the question, ‘If the Indians of South Africa disappeared from the land with all their assets, signs, symbols, culture and religion, what difference would that make to the South African Black people?’ If you wanted to use just one name and not two, ‘Guptas’, then the answer would be clear. But bad jokes apart, you know what I mean. Indispensability is critical to survival. You must ask, ‘As a community, are we indispensable, irreplaceable, critical to survival of South Africa?’ Forget the past. Ask this question in today’s context. Human memory is notoriously short. Think today because it is today, not yesterday, which will influence tomorrow.
Some data you may need to do this analysis:
Extent of Indian businesses in South Africa in terms of:
1. Business volume (Billions of $) of Indian businesses.
2. Nature of business (strategic: large scale farming, infrastructure development, power, finance, mining, health and education) versus commerce (retail, FMCG, restaurants – generally service sector with some exceptions).
3. Extent of employment created by Indian businesses (Tata Steel alone employs 74000 people and is worth $25 billion).
4. Tax paid by Indian businesses in South Africa.
5. Cost of replacement of Indian businesses and Indians in society.
6. Employee satisfaction of people working for Indian businesses, households (you may like to compare all of the above with White Owned Businesses to get some comparative data). Has anyone ever done an Employee Satisfaction Survey nationally, especially with domestic employees?
7. Do you have a source that is unquestionable and comparable, demographically and in terms of GDP for this data? Questionable data, partisan reporting does more damage than good.
Remember that contribution is a number. It is measurable and if it is not measured or unmeasurable then it is not visible and will not be appreciated. I know that you are going to say that you don’t have the means to measure the things that I have mentioned above. I say to you that, that in itself, is your answer. Once again, I rest my case.
You will notice that I have not mentioned the role of Indians in the Freedom Struggle. That is not accidental. The harsh reality is that today, it doesn’t matter. I mentioned the role of Indians in the Freedom Struggle in my article in 2005. Twelve years have passed since then. Memory was dim then. Today it is almost gone. The generation walking the street in South Africa, the generation which will go to vote in 2019, the generation that is listening to those using the plank of race and xenophobia is a generation that didn’t see apartheid. They don’t know what it meant to rush to find some means of transport to get out of a White area where they went to work, before dark, because they had no permit. They have never seen ‘Whites only’ signs on park benches, toilets, entrances and exits and in every part of their lives. They don’t know what it meant to pay the same amount of money but get third rate service only because you were Black, even if you were in Africa. They don’t know what it meant to be Black in a nation ruled by Whites and be treated as subhuman in your own land. They don’t know any of that. True, that they have forgotten that this is because of the sacrifices of those who fought for independence (Black, White & Indian) and gave up their present for the future of this generation. Yes, they have forgotten. That is sad, that is bad but that is the reality.
On the other hand, they know what it means to be Black in a nation ruled by Blacks but still not have jobs, still be treated badly, still be poor while you see others with more than you have. They neither have the wisdom to see that this is not the fault of Indians. It was not Indians who deprived them of jobs or who made promises that couldn’t possibly have been fulfilled. It was not Indians who didn’t tell them the truth that gaining independence was merely to cross the threshold of freedom. After that it takes the next two generations to build a nation. It was not Indians who hid these facts from them. All this they don’t understand and nobody, least of all those who want to use them for their own ends, will tell them. All that they know is that they are suffering, that they are angry and they need a target for their anger. That target is the one who has more than they do, who flaunts it, who shows it off in his lifestyle and who really has no power or strength to protect his assets. That is like taking ice cream from a child. That you are going to be hungry again, once the ice cream is gone, is not something that they are willing to reflect on. That it is much better to learn how to make ice cream is not something that they are willing to think about.
Yes, I know all the reactions that I am going to get to the statement above, “We didn’t get this for nothing, we worked hard for it, our parents sacrificed their lives so that we could have what we have today. These people don’t want to work hard, they want it all on a platter, they have an entitlement mentality, they think they can simply wish for wealth and it will fall into their laps, one day they will find out.”
I say to you, ‘Right on all counts. But they will discover that after you have disappeared from the land.
We have the history of several other African nations as evidence that the strategy of xenophobia; using a prosperous community as a target for the anger generated from broken promises of the government; works. It is highly successful in winning elections. We have several examples of that globally, not only in Africa. There is no reason to believe that it won’t work in South Africa. It is emotion not fact that generates mass action. And it is emotion that is the tool being used. One of the most powerful of emotions, far more than love, is fear. More than fear is hatred, that comes out of fear. So, fear and hatred mongers will get elected. The target community will enter the hallowed halls of history and the public will face some more broken promises, but that will be of no use to those who were used and discarded.’
Let me begin with my SWOT analyses of South African Indian Muslims. I would suggest that you do the same for South African Indians collectively. The beginning of the solution lies in an objective, even brutal, analysis of facts as they are. Not as we would like to view them. So, please be completely frank. If you have any doubts, talk to the other side, face to face. And listen to them. Don’t argue. Listen quietly. Go, do it.
SWOT Analysis of South African Indian Muslims
n Homogeneous, compact, consolidated (changing now)
n Relatively wealthy
n Legacy of the Freedom Struggle (getting diluted rapidly)
n State is supportive (changing now)
n Ulama & Maktabs and community support for them
n Harmonious relationships all around (changing now)
Warning: Strengths you ignore become weaknesses
n < 1%
n Changing population demographic & dynamics
n No presence in strategic business areas
n Racist attitudes & intolerance for any critical perspective
n Low/no presence in politics, government, judiciary, executive, military
n Poor education – Resultant myopia & rigidity
n Internal conflicts are a cancer but which is funded, encouraged and enjoyed
Warning: Weaknesses you ignore can destroy you
n Continue to live with dignity, prosperity and grace
n Retain and build on the legacy of the Freedom Struggle
n Be perceived as highly beneficial, essential, irreplaceable part of society
n Become icons and benchmarks for the Muslim world, of how to live in a pluralistic, multicultural society
But only opportunities you leverage can help you
n Become redundant, irrelevant and soft targets
n Used to further other’s agendas and discarded when usefulness is over
n Racism, rigidity, isolation and ignorance leads to annihilation
n Become the subject of a Harvard case study in AD (Accelerated Demise)
Threats ignored… well, let me leave it at that
History has the potential to teach us great and valuable lessons without the pain and cost that those who lived those times, paid for them.
However, as someone said, ‘What we learn from history is, that we learn nothing.’
And as someone else said, ‘Nations that don’t learn from history are condemned to repeat it.’
I say, ‘The choice is yours.’
History lesson: Indian Example
I believe that South African Muslims are repeating the mistakes that their counterparts (and ancestors) made in India. Indian Muslims were at the forefront of the Freedom Struggle in 1859 and then again in 1930’s – 40’s which resulted in final independence from the British on August 15, 1947. Indian Muslims with their Ulama in their vanguard, paid a heavy price in blood and lives to win freedom. After that, they retreated into their Madaaris, Khankhas and Darul Ulooms and the common Muslim people went back home and continued with their lives. No attempt was made to consolidate the gains of the independence movement, to be active politically, to fill positions in the administrative services, military, judiciary and police. No attempt was made by Muslims who had considerable wealth to get into industry, not even to invest with other industrialists. Madrassas and Darul Ulooms consciously remained apart from universities and strongly discouraged (forbade) the learning of English, science, math and other modern subjects. Even with Aligarh Muslim University, to this day, there is no active academic relationship and an atmosphere of caution.
I won’t go into the reasons, real and imaginary, for all this but the fact remains that this resulted in Indian Muslims being sidelined everywhere, their contribution in the independence struggle forgotten and them as a community being used as a vote bank and then discarded once they had fulfilled their purpose. Extremist Hindu parties used (and continue to use) Indian Muslims as a target to fuel hatred and get some cheap votes by making inflammatory speeches, which make the speeches that some of the extremist Black politicians are making in South Africa sound like love stories. These speeches routinely result in pogroms and since 1947 literally thousands of Muslims have died violently at the hands of roving mobs. And this continues. Nothing happens to those who create all this except that it helps them to get elected. Those who advised Muslims to stay away from politics and to ignore the world are as responsible for this tragic state of affairs as those who did and continue to do the killing.
The Institute of Objective Studies, New Delhi has some horrific data about the issue of so-called ‘Communal Riots’, which is the euphemistic name given to anti-Muslim pogroms. https://www.iosworld.org/ . The lynching of Muslims by roving mobs of so-called Gau Rakshaks (Cow Protectors) is another case in point to show that it is emotion, not fact that fuels action. That no action is taken against these vigilantes is a message for South African Muslims and Indians to reflect upon.
The thing to remember is that the number of Muslims in India is ten times the total population of South Africa. There are four Muslims in India for every man, woman and child of any religion or color in South Africa. Yet these numbers can’t help us. I am stating all these tragic facts here because I see a reflection of our history in the current events of South Africa. For the past twelve years I have been trying to say to you that South African Indians and Muslims are making the same mistakes in a newly independent (now over 20 years) South Africa, that Indian Muslims made in an independent India 70 years ago. Same actions give the same results. That is why I want to briefly quote the lessons from India so that South African Indians can learn from them and not repeat our tragic history.
What we learn from the history of Muslims in India’s Freedom struggle is:
n Strategically wrong decisions led to abiding hostility and the squandering of the gains of the Freedom Struggle
n Apathy led to filling of the vacuum by others
n Divided voting = lost advantage
n No strategic focus, game plan or action to date
n Internal conflicts = collective weakness = suicide
n 200 million Muslims became irrelevant
I quote from the speech of Maulana Abul Hasan Ali Nadwi (RA) at the inauguration of the Tabligh Markaz in Dewsbury, UK. He gave some very important advice which is relevant to Indian Muslims who migrated to other countries, including South Africa.
n This is a new land – don’t transplant your controversies from India & Pakistan
n Don’t isolate yourself because it is your Akhlaaq (manners) and Mu’ashira (society) which is the most powerful means of Da’awa
n Participate in politics because only those who participate in the process can participate in the decisions
In a democracy, the only thing which counts is the vote.
And everyone, including your domestic worker, is a voter.
I believe there are some harsh realities that South African Indians in general and Muslims in particular must face, own up to and change. I say Muslims in particular because these are attitudes which run counter to Islam. If South African Muslims displayed the Akhlaaq of Rasoolullahﷺ and the Sahaba, we would not have a situation like the one we have now. However, instead of that you seem to have brought across the seas, attitudes of your villages in Gujarat and elsewhere, with your shortsighted, narrowmindedness, your prejudice and your racism. India is a very racist culture. Indian racism goes back thousands of years and is ingrained in and is a part of the Hindu culture in its caste system.
Muslims who should have rejected it, because there is no caste system in Islam, embraced it and created a caste system of their own in Indian Islam (Ashraf, Ajlaf & Ardhal) that doesn’t exist anywhere else. This caste system was created and supported by Indian Ulama and that is the case to this day. Apart from other things, it is a system that is based on discrimination on the basis of color with ‘fair’ (nothing to do with justice) being the first requirement, seen as good, superior, desirable and dark being inferior, undesirable and looked down upon. Just look at the matrimonial ads in Indian newspapers and find me a single one that says, ‘Wanted: A bride who is dark in color’, and I will place my turban at your feet.
That attitude was also brought with Indians and Indian Muslims to South Africa. In South Africa of the apartheid era this worked very well and was supported by local laws, segregation regulations and housing. Indians lived in their towns separated from Black townships and White areas, always aspiring to be considered equal to Whites and apart and superior to Blacks. Even someone as enlightened as Gandhi made comments comparing Indian and Black people which are highly embarrassing to put it politely. At the cost of sounding apologetic, this was a factor of the Indian cultural mindset of which Gandhi was also a victim as was almost everyone else. To say that Indians are not racist is a lie. To try to justify it by asking, ‘What about the tribalism of Black people?’ is to try to say that one wrong justifies another.
Two wrongs don’t make a right. The purpose of saying this is not to blame but to identify a critical problem so that we can cure it. Especially for Muslims, racism is Haraam and a great sin that if not dealt with, will result in great humiliation when we meet Allahﷻ. No matter what happened in the past, it is something that needs urgent attention and must be rooted out. The place to begin is in our homes and schools.
n This is a Black country and you are not Black – not because Black people rejected you but because you rejected Black people
n You are seen as a highly visible, enviable, resource rich, ostentatious, insensitive, inward looking, weak, defenseless, non-beneficial minority
n You are a propagandist’s dream – a soft target i.e. the fuel which can be used to further their own ends
Ignoring reality is the fastest way to become its victim
However, you can still live here as ‘different’ but highly respected and valued – but only provided you do the right things which begins with putting your own house in order.
Face the Reality
n Strategic Focus is like air – without it you will die painfully and quickly
n Learn to work with others different from you in every way – except a common destiny
n Internal conflicts are cancer – must be eliminated urgently
n Those who cause them must be hunted down and axed out
The time to tolerate negativity is over
What to do?
Change your mindset
Any system, left unattended degenerates into chaos. Gardens, families, marriages, countries, organizations, all follow the same pattern. They all need regular attention.
- Recognize that racism is a life-threatening issue (quite literally)
- Create a high visibility impact & do it fast to demonstrate that you are taking action
- Avoid getting isolated and get everyone on board. Stay silent and you become the next victim.
- Spend enough time, money and energy to make an impact. (Key word: Enough)
- Find leadership which can bridge boundaries
Martin Niemöller (1892–1984) was a prominent Protestant pastor who emerged as an outspoken public foe of Adolf Hitler and spent the last seven years of Nazi rule in concentration camps. Niemöller is perhaps best remembered for the quotation:
First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist.
Because I was not a Socialist.
Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.
Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.
Find Inspirational Leadership
n Find leadership:
n Which is inclusive and can transcend boundaries
n Which can communicate and build trust with diverse people
n Which is trusted by all parties to be just and impartial
n Which has the humility to learn from others
n Which has enough strength to ensure compliance
Warning: Internal Conflict just got upgraded to cardiac arrest status
I don’t think there is a single leader of any faith community among Indian South Africans who can fit this bill. The alternative is to find an organization which can perform this role. In my opinion, the Ahmed Kathrada Foundation is such an organization. I leave it to you to collectively decide. But let me say right now that unless it is a genuine collective decision which is supported wholeheartedly by all sections of the Indian South African community, it won’t work. Some South African Muslims have a rich history of backstabbing their own leaders, of loose cannons who go off half-cocked and create all kinds of confusion and disruption, of being hypocritical in their speech and actions. I submit to you that the time for playing these games is over.
Speak to the opposition
n Take the wind out of their sails by acting urgently on matters that need action
n Show the opposition how they will damage their own political goals if they take the route of xenophobic violence. Find someone who can talk to them and who they will listen to. You need someone with credibility with them.
n Build a popular front for nation building by including everyone in it – Black, White, Indian or Coloured
n Reject the language of race which still divides you. If you think you are South African, stop referring to each other by color. You are human beings. Not pawns in a chess game.
Immediately put your own house in order
n Accept publicly that things have gone wrong and that you (Indian community) will put your own house in order
n Set up an Ombudsman Desk in every city where people can report human rights violations. Investigate all cases objectively and ensure (enforce) proper compensation. There is no excuse for breaking the law of the land.
n Conduct Cross-Cultural Sensitivity & Understanding programs and preach race equality everywhere, especially in religious institutions and gatherings.
n Start a Community Dialogue between Black & Indian people. Include others.
Don’t give fuel to others to light a fire under you
On-going with long term focus: Build a credit balance
- Talent Search (among underprivileged): pick highly talented youngsters irrespective of race and tutor & mentor them
- Build state of the art schools in Black areas
- Educate one Black child for one Indian child in your own private schools
- Start Entrepreneurship training & startup funding for young Black entrepreneurs
- Invest in long term development projects (not charity and food packets): housing, health care, clean water, sanitation, kitchen gardens, livestock management, child care, sports and adult literacy.
- Get into the executive, judiciary and military – Remember that it takes 35 years for to make a General, Judge or Minister
- Become active in politics at all levels, from voting to working as political activists to standing for election. Set up a fund to help those Indian political candidates who have the talent, ability and willingness but not the funds for campaigning.
- Set up Chairs in all universities for business, politics, education, health, environment and Islamic studies
- Stop all public criticism & pamphleteering – you are a bad joke. Attacking people, you disagree with, only shows your own ignorance and bad manners. It is not enough to talk about Adaab-ul-Ikhtilaaf. You need to practice them. This must be demonstrated especially by the Ulama. The present situation is totally unacceptable and a serious disservice to the community. Beware that if the present situation doesn’t change, it will result in a total alienation of the community from the Ulama.
- Get into media – at all levels – urgently. Create a media which is fair, intelligent, proactive and courageous. Not the propaganda machines that we see today in the name of media.
Treat it like it is – investment in YOUR future
Finally, most important of all is to remember that the window of opportunity is fast closing
“Insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.” Albert Einstein