/ 6 May 2024

EFF member apologises to Indians for using the word ‘coolie’

Eff 10th Anniversary Rally At Fnb Stadium In South Africa
(Photo by Lefty Shivambu/Gallo Images via Getty Images)

Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) member Khehla Mngwengwe has apologised to the Indian community for using the derogatory word “kuli” (coolie) in a social media post, after the Umlazi equality court ordered him to do so within 30 days of its ruling.

Mngwengwe apologised on his Facebook page last week and in person at a meeting on 1 May facilitated by Guru Acharya Sham Ramanuj at the Shri Mariamann Temple in Mount Edgecombe in KwaZulu-Natal.

The equality court  on 5 April ordered Mngwengwe to apologise for the racially offensive post he made on the controversial Karou Charou Facebook page after the July 2021 riots in KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng, which claimed 354 lives and cost the economy R50 billion through the destruction of infrastructure and property.

Narend Ganesh, leader of the National Independent Congress of South Africa, took up the matter in court, filing and winning a hate speech case against Mngwengwe.

Ganesh told the court that Mngwengwe had written: “Wait until the army disappears and we will never forget nor forgive. We will make sure we triple by hundreds of what you did to innocent black people. You must know that you kulis will never rest.”

Mngwengwe made the remarks after 36 people, 33 of them black, were killed in Phoenix during the July 2021 unrest.

The South African Human Rights Commission later found that the killings were racially motivated, with black people having been targeted at roadblocks in Phoenix,  25km northwest of Durban.

Brothers Dylan and Ned Govender were sentenced to seven years imprisonment in August last year for grievous bodily harm, common assault and attempted murder in the Palmview area of Phoenix.

Ganesh told the court that he did not want it to impose a fine or prison sentence on Mngwengwe in a bid to be “reconciliatory”.

But Mngwengwe argued in court papers that he had made the remarks in the context of an already racially inflammatory conversation on the Facebook page.

“Many of my black brothers and sisters were provoked by the shocking and racist content and plethora of fan comments on the Karou Charou Live show at the time of the July unrest. This is where I commented and not on my own page or any other platform,” Mngwengwe said.

“This proves my comment was not isolated or meant to incite harm but was in direct response to the hurtful and racist insults on a live video. The context places the applicant’s misleading claims in a totally different light.”

He argued that the word “coolie” was not hate speech because it meant “Indian worker”.

Mgwengwe, who repeatedly told the Mail & Guardian after the ruling that he did not believe the word was hate speech, apologised in a post on his Facebook page last week, writing: “I wish to unequivocally apologise to all South African Indians and South Africans about my reply that I made on Karou Charou’s Live Show in 2021. It was wrong of me to reply on social media with such words that may have hurt the Indian community who stood by me from day one.

“I also thank the magistrate for taking into consideration the circumstances of the incident, as I was never found by the court of law to be a racist. I am truly apologising unconditionally. God bless South Africa.”

Ganesh said he was happy with the apology on Facebook, although he felt that Mgwengwe’s in-person apology in the temple on 1 May was an attempt to gain political mileage.

“What else did I want him to say, to go on his knees? No. All I wanted him to acknowledge was that his remarks were indeed tantamount to hate speech,” Ganesh said. “I accept the apology. He was asked by the court to apologise on social media which he did, so the matter is put to rest.”