The Indian cringe-list

As far as it goes being an Indian in Africa, we’ve had it pretty lucky in South Africa. We were brought over here in about the same year as Uganda’s Indians. Fast forward to the present and we’re celebrating 150 years of actively being part of South Africa’s struggle, liberation and democratic freedom while Ugandans are left with dim memories of the forceful expulsion of their Asians in 1972 under Idi Amin.

Even Kenya’s Indians were once subjected to all sorts of hostilities and programmes that disempowered them. The closest we’ve had was that Indophobic AmaNdiya song which Nelson Mandela himself stepped in to quell.

It helps that there was high-level unity between Africans and Asians during the struggle and that even now, barring rumblings of discontent from KwaZulu-Natal, South African Indians are welcomed in politics, business and entertainment where they have made more than significant contributions.

So it really upsets me when you get those Indians. You know — the ones who cause you major embarrassment to be called a Moodley, Singh or Mahomed. Forewith a list of the cringe-making worst:

  1. Ranjeni Munusamy — This mouthpiece of a certain faction in the African National Congress (ANC) not only embarrasses me as an Indian but as a journalist. “Munusamy had her 15 minutes of fame as the journalist who nearly destroyed the reputation of former director of national prosecutions Bulelani Ngcuka by insisting on reporting that he might have been an apartheid spy,” The M&G’s deputy editor-in-chief Rapule Tabane succinctly summarised in 2005. “When her then employer, the Sunday Times, refused to publish, she went to City Press. The latter was later forced to retract and apologise to Ngcuka.”

    Since then Munusamy has played “consultant” to convicted fraudster Schabir Shaik (more on him later) during his court battles, spin doctored for Zuma in his run-up to the presidency and was last seen as head of communications strategy and infrastructure at Blade Nzimande’s higher education department. Backing the right horse sure comes with perks. It’s a pity integrity isn’t one of them.

  2. Schabir Shaik — It’s like someone took that stereotype of the oily Indian businessmen greasing the wheels of African kleptocracy and brought it to life. Shaik is one of a few dodgeball businessmen who gave Jacob Zuma substantial financial support during those hard pre-presidential years in exchange for who knows what returns. His trial, which proved a generally corrupt relationship with Zuma, was in the news long enough for you to be vaguely aware of it. But it’s the sheer volume of his sliminess that gets my goad. As early as 1990 he cheated on an engineering exam. Then there were the fudged academic qualifications and business successes. This man has made a CAREER out of being a fraudster. It’s so comic book Indian it’s mortifying. He wrangled his way out of prison under the most dubious circumstances and we’re all still waiting for him to die like he promised he would.
  3. Manusha Pillai — Once a main spokesperson for the then Department of Foreign Affairs, Manusha is the kind of woman that makes honest journalists want to cry into their keyboards. Her phone manner is aggressive bordering on abusive and she treats all queries with the sort of disdain you would reserve for kiddy-fiddlers and Scientologists. It doesn’t matter if a departmental handout tells you to contact Manusha for more information. She will be sure to answer the phone in the foulest of temper at having you disturb her drive/rant/shedding-of-scales for the day. Sure she’s paid a gargantuan government communication staff salary, that is easily four times the amount of the average journalist, for the job of helping said journalists. But that won’t stop her from making your job as difficult as all hell. I’m not sure where Manusha is now but a source in the now re-named Department of International Relations and Cooperation tells me she’s really quite lovely to her colleagues. So was Pol Pot, I’m sure.
  4. Kerishnie Naicker — Vaulted to national fame as the first Indian Miss South Africa, Kerishnie was pretty enough, eloquent and made us all proud. Until she was caught careening down the highway in her official car, sporting an expired licence and gabbling about some fictional uncle in hospital. Rumour has it she even flashed about her close relationship with Nelson Mandela to get off the hook. Ouch.
  5. Jay Soap — The Indian equivalent of Joe Soap; the Asian everyman from Natal. So, as I’ve mentioned before, I don’t, believe it or not, come from that factory of all people Indian. But I’ve heard enough to make me worried. I’m hoping it’s exaggerated or not true but just in case: if you’re a Durban Indian treating your black workers badly, scamming your shop customers or harbouring a secret belief of your cultural superiority stop it. Just stop it, OK? It’s embarrassing.

I could go on but it’s getting a bit depressing. So I’ll pull a Sunday Times Extra and focus on the Indians who make me proud. The Fatima Meers, Pravin Gordhans, Ahmed Kathradas and Raj 1s and 2s of this land. In fact I’m pretty sure the number of Indians who are committed to improving our amazing country outweigh the ones aren’t. Now there’s something with which I can celebrate 150 years of being proudly South African.

  • You can read Verashni’s column every Monday here and follow here on twitter here.

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Verashni Pillay
Verashni Pillay is the former editor-in-chief of the Mail & Guardian, and inaugural editor-in chief of Huffington Post South Africa. She has worked at various periods as senior reporter covering politics and general news, specialises in mediamanagement and relishes the task of putting together the right team to create compelling and principled journalism across multiple platforms.

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