Ela Gandhi with Indian prime minister Narendra Modi at Durban’s Phoenix Settlement in South Africa in July 2016. (Photo by RAJESH JANTILAL/AFP via Getty Images)
THREATS exist against the Indian-origin community in South Africa after the recent violence that rocked the country but the government is doing its best to counter it, Ela Gandhi, granddaughter of Mahatma Gandhi and a peace activist in South Africa, said on Monday (23).
Major violence broke out in South Africa after protests started against the imprisonment of former president Jacob Zuma in early July on charges of contempt of court. Looting and arson started in the two provinces of KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng and media reports said the Indian-origin South Africans were targeted and many of the 330 people who were killed in the violence were of Indian origin.
“This is not quite correct. Certainly, there were a number of Indian-owned businesses that were looted or burnt down, but they were among the scores more, many owned by national chain-store groups, that were raided by the looters. There were also no direct attacks on any Indians that we are aware of,” Gandhi, 81, said, adding, “As far as deaths go, we believe that only two or three of those killed were of Indian-origin.”
“What I said was that terrorist attacks by anyone anywhere in the world could occur at any time, not just against any particular community in South Africa only,” Gandhi, who was born in South Africa where her famous grandfather had made a name as a freedom fighter before returning to India said While reacting to some reports in the Indian media quoting her as saying that attacks could happen anytime anywhere.
“We can’t deny that such threats do exist, especially advocated by some people on social media, but our government is doing all in its power to address this,” she said.
Gandhi, who has won a number of awards including Padma Bhushan, heads the Gandhi Development Trust based at the Phoenix Settlement that the Mahatma had started during his stay in South Africa in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
Ela Gandhi speaks on OCI applications
She also spoke on the reports that there was an increased number of applications by South Africans of Indian origin for OCI (Overseas Citizenship of India) cards.
“The Indian missions would be in a better position to answer that, but we know that there are people who have already migrated to places such as Australia who have been trying to get their relatives in South Africa to join them. But the recent violence should not be used as an excuse for that. We should also consider that hundreds of thousands of fourth and fifth generation Indians who consider themselves to be South African citizens are still here, many of them doing their part to assist in reconciliation and rehabilitation projects after the violence,” she said.
Officials at the Indian consulates in cities like Durban and Johannesburg confirmed that there has been a rise in both applications for and enquiries about the OCI card.
Gandhi, who is involved along with other community leaders in the Indian and black communities in various projects aimed at reconciliation, said, “Inciting calls by some people, including political leaders, which get circulated widely on social media, unfortunately do not help.”
She said this in an apparent reference to a statement by the leader of the Economic Freedom Fighters, Julius Malema, who has often been accused of making anti-Indian remarks.
“What those Indians did there in Phoenix is unforgettable, we will never forgive them for what they did to our people. And those are Indian criminals, they must be called exactly that. We are not going to make any apology about that,” Malema had said in an interview with radio station Khaya FM after the recent violence.
Twenty-two Black people killed in Phoenix, allegedly at the hands of Indian vigilantes, many of whom are now facing murder and manslaughter charges.
Advocate Mahomed Saleem Khan cautioned Malema that if he persisted with his anti-Indian remarks, he would institute legal proceedings against him.
“(Indians) have honoured South Africa and the African continent with significant, material and continuing contributions towards, inter alia, commercial and cultural development,” Khan said.
Popular Indian-origin comedian and social commentator Karou Charou, whose real name is Mahdevan Moodley, also made an online plea to the Black community to ignore racist remarks on social media and work together with the Indian community.