Anti-Indian lyrics sow seeds of hatred
The members of AmaCde (The Comrades) are sitting tensely around a concrete table in a park in KwaMashu, west of Durban. There is nothing in their body language or attire that suggests they are rappers. Their manner, instead, suggests an air of paranoia.
Their song Umhlab’ Uzobuya (The land will return), modelled on Mbongeni Ngema’s AmaNdiya (The Indians), has been making inroads along Durban’s township taxi routes since its release in July.
Like Ngema’s song, which was banned from being broadcast as it made sweeping, disparaging statements against Indians as a “race”, Umhlab’ Uzobuya treads similar ground, calling for Indians to return across the Indian Ocean or face consequences.
During an hour-long interview with the group, two people walk by playing the song on their cellphones. Rapper Mnqobi Ndlovu, the de facto band leader, also receives a call from an irate Indian man. “You may have your rights … But not all Indians are …”
Ndlovu puts the phone on speaker for everyone to hear.
“Let me tell you something … I’m working for a black company at the moment, and my manager is a black person and you must see how he treats his fellow blacks. It is worse than anything I have seen in my life and I’m 60 years old. I do believe you should reform yourself a bit, hey?”
“Why is that, sir? Why do you believe I should reform my …”
The call, coming from an unidentified number, cuts off before Ndlovu can finish his sentence.
Umhlab’ Uzobuya‘s lyrics are predominantly in isiZulu and the verses are broken up by a chorus reminding the “black nation” of the song’s title. It starts off with a programmed drum roll, after which group member Keketso Jali (16) starts rhyming with the metronomic beat. He says Indians are an “age-old problem” who should “go back across the ocean” or face “action”.
The second verse, rapped by 18-year-old Andile Khoza, describes a young man seething from the treatment he receives from a certain “Naicker”. He considers violence but stops himself when he ponders the possible impact on his own family.
The third verse asks, perhaps in a reference to former president Nelson Mandela, “Where is the messiah, this man who sold us out in Codesa?”
There is also an ambiguous line about “fetching the hoe from under the bed”, which not only refers to an agricultural tool but also to an AK47.
The fourth verse is a call to ihlome ihlasele (arm yourself and attack) before a praise poem at the end records the Zulu people’s attempts to resist colonialism and apartheid.
Ndlovu, at 27 the group’s oldest member, says they are all members of the Mazibuye African Forum, which has been labelled “anti-Indian” for its calls to scale back economic empowerment and employment equity for Indians, Chinese and white women.
“We’re inspired by the song AmaNdiya; we’re picking up where he [Ngema] left off, in our modern way,” says Ndlovu. “Hopefully this song will set the agenda in the corridors of power. What we’re saying is that you can’t put us on an equal platform, empowerment-wise, with Indians; we suffered a whole lot more. Empowerment should favour us.”
In 2002, playwright and composer Ngema released AmaNdiya, which expressed similar confrontational sentiments about Indians. The song was banned from public broadcasting by the Broadcasting Complaints Commission of South Africa as it “promoted hate in sweeping, emotive language against Indians as a race”.
Anele Khoza, another group member, says they “are not advocating violence, but Indian people must learn how to treat us as we treat them”.
Because of apartheid spatial planning, to the north east and south east of KwaMashu are the former Indian neighbourhoods of Phoenix, Avoca Hills and Newlands West. The areas have since been integrated to varying degrees, but AmaCde tell of persistent petty and systemic racism.
“My aunt works as a domestic at an Indian family’s house,” says Jali, the youngest member. “It’s not anything she has told me, but I have seen her children go to school without any food on the table and without money to buy food later on.”
In 2013, a march organised by Mazibuye in the Phoenix industrial area to combat what the group calls “slavery in the form of employer collusion to pay very low wages”, turned violent, ending with the arrest of some Mazibuye members, who now face charges of gathering illegally, public violence and malicious damage to property.
After admitting that this was not a “straightforward criminal case”, the National Directorate of Public Prosecutions ordered what it called a “restorative justice programme” according to which employees and business owners should find non-violent ways to solve labour relations problems.
The event took place this week at KwaMashu Christian Centre and was attended by representatives from the department of labour, Mazibuye and the South African Human Rights Commission.
“You could look at any industry in KwaZulu-Natal and see that we can’t be put on the same starting block with Indians,” Mazibuye’s Zweli Sangweni says, referring to black economic empowerment.
“Black people need that special attention, more especially because they are indigenous to this country. It was through raising issues like this that we got the ‘anti-Indian’ tag. But we also think that Chinese people should not benefit from BEE, as well as white women.”
To support his arguments, he points to citizenship laws in China and India that protect Chinese and Indian emigrants’ citizenship for up to four generations.
Detractors of Mazibuye often point out that, like Ngema, they make the mistake of treating Indians as a homogenous group and that their often inflammatory rhetoric gets in the way of the issues they raise.
“The substance of Mazibuye’s claims create false arguments,” says the Ahmed Kathrada Foundation’s executive director, Neeshan Balton. “Not all Indians benefit from BEE and not all Indians are bad employers,” said Balton, whose foundation, named after the Robben Islander, promotes nonracialism.
“I know that the provincial government is part of a commission to investigate those claims [that Indians continue to benefit at the expense of Africans] and we would welcome those findings as matter of urgency.”
In 2002, when Mandela met Ngema over the fallout of AmaNdiya, he said: “African people through the African National Congress now are in a position to set the agenda for transformation and we are being watched by the world. So everyone has to raise problems in a way that contributes to solving them, not inflaming emotions.”
But the Commission for Employment Equity’ annual report for 2012-2013 suggests the ruling party may not have made much headway.
In the report, its chairperson Loyiso Mbabane says that trends over the past 10 years show that the percentage representation of whites in top management increased, whereas that of Africans and Coloureds showed a decrease.
“The time-series data also point to a steady and positive increase in the percentage of “foreign nationals” as well as Indians at the top management and senior management levels.
“An interesting observation is that the biggest employer in terms of the representation of Indians at top and senior management has been the government, including parastatals,” he said.
Approached for comment this week, the ANC’s KwaZulu-Natal provincial secretary, Sihle Zikalala, said they believed the song was discriminatory and contained hate speech about Indians.
He also said that the ANC wanted to state categorically that it was not part of this initiative, even though the group is named AmaCde.
“We know there are challenges of inequality within our society and we believe that the steps taken by the provincial and national government will help in dealing with these imbalances.
“The approach that the people who have compiled the song have taken is nothing but a divisive approach, which could end up pitting our people against each other. We appreciate the gains that have been made in the past 20 years in uniting this society.”