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|August 30, 2002|
The Rediff Special/ Ajith Bridgraj
South African politicians are at pains to de-link a heinous crime wave against the country's Indian community from a controversial Zulu song titled AmaNdiya (meaning Indians), but there is a growing sentiment in the community that a spate of recent murders of Indians has been sparked off by the song.
In the past few months, two female pensioners were brutally murdered in separate incidents while an Indian businesswoman was gunned down at point-blank range in the full view of her two young children.
Matters came to a head on August 24, when four Indians were hijacked after a soccer match at the sprawling former Indian belt of Chatsworth, south of Durban, which is home to some 250,000 of the country's one million descendants from India.
The hijacked men had their throats slit before being dumped alongside a deserted road. One of the victims survived the ordeal by playing dead until his attackers drove off in the hijacked vehicle.
Earlier this year, internationally acclaimed playwright and songwriter Mbongeni Ngema created a stir with the release of AmaNdiya in his album Jive Madlokovu. The song accuses the Indians of being worse oppressors than the erstwhile racist regime.
AmaNdiya opens with the line 'Oh brothers, oh my fellow brothers, we need strong and brave men to confront Indians.'
Ngema has steadfastly maintained that the song was meant to stimulate discussion around Indian-African relations and to promote reconciliation between the two groups.
urban resident Ramesh Jethalal moved the high court to restrain Ngema and his music company from selling the album, since the song incited racial hatred. The case has been adjourned to November 4.
Veteran Indian politician Amichand Rajbansi, leader of the Minority Front in KwaZulu-Natal, conceded that there was widespread suspicion among Indians that the cold-blooded killing of the three Chatsworth men was motivated by Ngema's song.
"This is what Indians are saying on the street and what was widely stated at the crematorium where these men were laid to rest," said Rajbansi. "There is widespread anger in the community."
Even though Rajbansi described the song's opening line as "provocative," he was loath to link this -- and the other incidents -- to the song. "Africans are also being killed by the criminal elements in our society, so we should refrain from attaching a racial tag to these incidents," he said.
But he disclosed that unconfirmed reports claimed the sole survivor of the Chatsworth hijacking incident had said the assailants mentioned AmaNdiya as they attacked him and his friends. "I will be speaking to the survivor soon to establish if this is indeed the case," Rajbansi said, calling for tougher legislation and greater enforcement to stamp out such incidents.
The Inkatha Freedom Party's agriculture minister in KwaZulu Natal, Narend Singh, stated he did not believe "the song had anything to do with the attacks on Indians." "People of all races are being attacked and killed," remarked Singh, while slamming President Thabo Mbeki's government for granting amnesty to "hardened criminals."
"This exacerbates the rate of crime and sends a wrong signal to criminals who believe they can act with impunity."
Mtholephi Mthimkulu, provincial spokesperson of the African National Congress in KZN, too dismissed talk that Indians were being targeted as a consequence of Ngema's song. "We cannot rule out the possibility that family feuds may have been at the centre of some of these killings."
KZN police are tight-lipped about their investigations, saying that public statements could hamper their investigations.
But Ron Reddy, a community figure in Chatsworth, remains convinced that the upsurge in attacks against Indians was "definitely linked to the song. From being isolated incidents, attacks against Indians are becoming common-place following the release of the song."
It was not unusual to hear comments from blacks on the streets of Chatsworth accusing Indians of living a life in South Africa that was "too comfortable for too long," he said.
While crime was rampant in South Africa, the nature of attacks against Indians since the release of the song had become "extremely violent and brutal," agreed Durban lecturer Shakti Maharaj. "It would appear that these have now become crimes of revenge and deep-seated hatred. The way in which the victims were mercilessly killed suggests that the perpetrators are determined to terrorize the Indian community in South Africa."
"Apartheid has left a legacy of illiteracy in South Africa. The vast majority don't understand what Ngema claims was his intention in writing the song. As a result, they may interpret the song literally and see it as a license to attack Indians," she said.
She stated that the tragedy of Indian South Africans is that while earlier under apartheid they were regarded as "not white enough," now they are "not black enough" for the new South Africa. "We've always been the filling in the sandwich that everyone wants to take a bite of," she added.
Ajith Bridgraj is based in Durban, South Africa
Design: Lynette Menezes
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