Anti-Indian group summonsed to court over press statements

Former political prisoner Ahmed Kathrada's foundation is one of the applicants in the case against the Mazibuye African Forum. (Kevin Sutherland, Gallo)

Former political prisoner Ahmed Kathrada's foundation is one of the applicants in the case against the Mazibuye African Forum. (Kevin Sutherland, Gallo)

The Equality Court has summonsed the Mazibuye African Forum to appear before it for inflammatory utterances by members Zweli Sangweni and Phumlani Mfeka. 

Mazibuye is a KwaZulu-Natal-based pressure group known for its anti-Indian rhetoric.

The South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC), the Ahmed Kathrada Foundation and lawyer Kirith Haria are applicants in the matter, which stems from statements made by the forum to the press and others issued by it. 

In particular focus is a City Press article written by Phumlani Mfeka published on May 26 2013 entitled “Are we strangers in a strange land?” 

In the article, which is addressed to Newcastle mayor Afzul Rehman, Mfeka tells Rehman he is “an Indian ... South Africa is an African country ... belonging to its indigenous African people.” He says “Africans in this province do not regard Indians as their brethren and thus the ticking time bomb of a deadly confrontation between the two communities is inevitable and shall be exacerbated by the antagonistic attitude that Indians such as yourself ...

Rehman laid a complaint at the Road Traffic Inspectorate after an employee at a testing station called him “a Gupta” when Rehman went to renew his drivers’ licence. He also opened a case of crimen injuria – an act that impairs the dignity of another person, especially when racially offensive language is used – against the employee.

‘Hate speech’
While not available to comment before publication, in court papers, the SAHRC says: “In bringing this application, the objective of the SAHRC is not to stifle expression on matters of public interest but rather to stop the dissemination of hate speech, which undermines the core values of the constitutional order.” 

Last year, following several complaints, the SAHRC wrote to Mfeka, telling him that the complainants viewed his article as discriminatory against South Africans of Indian descent in general and inconsistent with the spirit, purport and objects of the Constitution.

Mfeka responded, unrepentant, pointing to his family’s history in the ANC and recalling what he called the historically hardline stance of ANC youth structures (particularly the Transvaal Youth League of the 1950s) on “groups striving for self-preservation.”  

Mfeka is a member of the ANC Youth League’s Andrew Zondo branch, which is eThekwini Municipality’s Ward 44. His rigid anti-Indian stance has been viewed as a political game to engender support from sectors of the provincial youth league and the parent body’s sizable anti-Indian lobby. Mfeka was understood to be interested in contesting for the presidency of the youth league but the structure’s elective conference has been put on ice for financial reasons. 

Bandile Masuku of the youth league’s national task team said: “We’re not sure if he’s a member of the youth league but in his public utterances he claims to be a member of the ANC. His comments are distasteful and so un-ANC. When we say blacks in general and Africans in particular, we’re defining blacks and coloureds as blacks.”

Masuku said the youth league was undergoing an audit to determine the number of branches in good standing and the number of dormant ones. 

Masuku said anti-Indian sentiments in the organisation were the preserve of a few individuals as the organisation valued the role of Indians in the struggle. 

‘Nothing to apologise for’
When interviewed by the Mail & Guardian, Mfeka said he had “nothing to apologise for” and wouldn’t “be told” how to raise issues. “Right now there are people being raped by their employers,” he said. 

“Last year some of our members participated in an alternate conflict resolution programme [following a march protesting against work conditions at the Phoenix industrial park]. The stories that came out of there were scary and if we have more opportunities like that, more things can come to light. We are actually trying to avert a catastrophic situation.”

Last year’s march ended up with security guards from Favors Cash and Carry shooting at members of the Mazibuye African Forum, of which 46 were later charged with public violence.

The two parties attended a conflict resolution session in KwaMashu. Sheena Jonker of Alternate Dispute Resolution Network South Africa and the Access to Justice Association of Southern Africa said bringing the affected parties to the table is a way of dealing with the underlying issues and not the symptoms.

Professor of sociology at the University of Johannesburg Ashwin Desai said: “Firstly, I feel we should have the freest and open discussions. To tie people up in court is to stop them from expressing their views. I’ve just finished reading Heather Hughes’ biography of John Dube and he was saying: ‘These people are here, they are taking our land and they’re exploiting us.’ Now everybody wants to embrace John Dube but Mazibuye can’t say the same thing. 

“Public debate is how issues enter the public domain. By dragging people to the Equality Court, you force issues into a more subliminal space. If you debated Mazibuye, I’m sure a more nuanced and more subtle view about how they feel would begin to emerge. I’m sure they are not attacking the working class of Phoenix. You may ask why are they not attacking the real owners of the wealth, the white capitalist class, but I think their focus is how the merchant class has attached itself to the political elite in a real brazen way, using connections to gain wealth. Which is a conversation about the way BEE is being used.” 

Mazibuye has until October 13 to respond to the summons.

Kwanele Sosibo

Kwanele Sosibo

Kwanele Sosibo studied journalism at Durban's ML Sultan Technikon before working at Independent Newspapers from 2000 to 2003. In 2005, he joined the Mail & Guardian's internship programme and later worked as a reporter at the paper between 2006 and 2008, before working as a researcher. He was the inaugural Eugene Saldanha Fellow in 2011. Read more from Kwanele Sosibo

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