A lobby group called “Black Caucus” has this week praised the role of Indians, and in particular, anti-apartheid activist Ahmed Timol.
The group, strongly aligned to the ANC, has called for the party to recognise the minority groups that fought apartheid. The group criticised the “ANC’s affection with self-hate”, saying it’s time to look at the ANC and the fight for freedom beyond the microscope of colour. The party’s constitution states that it is a non-racial party working towards a free and fair South Africa.
However, leading up to the May 8 elections, the issue of racialism has crept into the party’s dialogue. Walking in the passage of the fourth floor at Luthuli house, the ANC’s headquarters in Johannesburg, it is clear from the pictures on the wall that Indians have played a huge role in fighting apartheid. In large black and white print hangs a picture of Timol, next to Rivonia trialist Ahmed Kathrada.
Speaking to Independent Media, Black Caucus spokesperson Nkosentsha Shezi said: “The fight against segregation and apartheid was not only by black people. It was by black and white, coloured and Indian, all of us. We must honour all our fallen heroes. Ahmed Timol is our hero.”
Black Caucus has put its weight behind Timol’s nephew, Imtiaz Cajee, in joining the National Prosecuting Authority and two government departments in opposing the leave to appeal application of security branch clerk João “Jan” Rodrigues, the man accused of murdering Timol.
The prosecution has argued that Timol could not have jumped out of a 10th-storey window, falling to his death. The 20-year struggle by the Foundation for Human Rights for justice and accountability for political crimes under the apartheid era was last month vindicated by the full Bench decision that Rodrigues stand trial.
It is believed that the trial (and Rodrigues) will finally open Pandora’s box and reveal what happened in the days and hours leading to Timol’s death.
Timol’s family believes he could have had important information. The circumstances around Timol and other activists’ deaths were so concealed by the security branch that it was possible the activists were burnt or electrocuted.
The case followed the reopening of the inquest into Timol’s death. Presiding over the case, Judge Narandran Jody Kollapen in his concluding comments pointed out that “justice and truth were never meant to be compromised in dealing with our troubled, turbulent and shameful past”.
Timol was a student activist, and later, became a member of the SA Communist Party.
He went to London in 1967, where he took up a teaching post and met with friends from the Communist Party and the ANC who selected him to attend the International Lenin School in Moscow. He returned to South Africa in 1970, resuming his teaching post in Roodepoort.
In October 1971, Timol and Salim Essop were arrested at a roadblock in Coronationville, handcuffed and taken to the Newlands Police Station. According to the police, pamphlets containing banned ANC literature, copies of secret communication correspondence and instructions from the SACP were found in the car they were travelling in.
Timol’s murder reflects many untold stories of people, black and white, who died at the hands of the apartheid police, but it also tells the story of an Indian family seeking closure from decades of police cover-ups.
Political scientist Dr Sihle Sibiya agrees with Black Caucus that this judgment honours the memory of Timol and other Indian people who fought apartheid.
“Apartheid was a structured evil affecting all people of colour. It is a fallacy to think only a certain tribe could’ve fought apartheid. Because of the ANC’s internal challenges, it has failed to address the issue of unity among all its comrades.
“This is a reminder that many Indian families lost their children because they were in the forefront of the Struggle. The dynamics of race are sensitive in the ANC.
“The organisation, known as a broad church, was known to embrace all races, but in the last few years, the rivalry of races has risen.
“In the nineties, the ANC’s biggest rivalry was between the Xhosa- speaking comrades and the Zulu-speaking comrades. The battle between the ethnic groups contributed to former president Thabo Mbeki’s fall when the Zulu faction wanted an opportunity to lead, after five years of Mandela and nine years of Mbeki.”
Asked if they agreed with Black Caucus’ comments, the ANC Women’s League said: “It’s time all our heroes were celebrated. We can’t ignore heroes because they were not black. The ANC was built by all races. Those who killed Timol are the same people who killed Steve Biko.”
ANC treasurer-general Paul Mashatile told Independent Media: “The relationship between the ANC and the community of persons of Indian origin is not one born out of canvassing for votes”.
“The relationship is one that was forged in the trenches of Struggle – not one designed out of opportunistic and expedient processes.
“The heroes of the ANC and the Struggle against apartheid include a host of ANC comrades who were of Indian origin. They are celebrated and revered as South African heroes. Even before the formation of the ANC in 1912, Pixley ka Seme met Mahatma Gandhi in 1911.
“And the close relations between the ANC and the leadership within the South African Indian community resulted in the world-famous Three Doctors’ Pact of 1947, between the leaders of the Natal and Transvaal Indian Congresses and the ANC, that is, GM Naicker, YM Dadoo and AB Xuma, respectively.
“It is the Three Doctors’ Pact that ushered in the principle of non-racialism. The ANC becomes the voice and face of non-racialism in the world.” Mashatile said.
On the darker side, it is not all politicians that celebrate the Indian community for their diligence in fighting apartheid.
At a rally in April, EFF leader Julius Malema told supporters: “Indians need to rework their mentality with regard to African people.”
“They are paid nothing by the fellow South Africans who happen to be of Indian descent. Those people must know that for us to build unity among black people, the Indian community must rework their mentality that they are closer to whiteness. They are not closer to whiteness; they are black.
“We are all victims of apartheid, we were all exploited by apartheid. Our Indians must accept that without unity of purpose among Africans and Indians, the white minority will continue to exploit us.
“We are saying to them: Pay our people proper salaries. Don’t pay them with food, don’t pay them with groceries, don’t pay them with old clothes – we don’t (want) our people paid peanuts,” Malema said.
Dr Sibiya has lashed out at Malema, saying now that the elections are over, Malema will need a history lesson.
“It is a recorded fact that Pixley ka Seme, who was tasked with convening all the African organisations for the Bloemfontein meeting, held a meeting with Gandhi in 1911, at which Gandhi shared with him the motives of the passive resistance campaign and the workings of the Natal Indian Congress.
In 1911, Gandhi’s newspaper, Indian Opinion, reported an interview with Seme on the progress of plans for the conference, which was held in Bloemfontein from January 8-11, 1912.
That conference was the birth of the ANC. Reverend John Langalibalele Dube of Natal was elected president, in his absence. Gandhi was effective even in the launch of the ANC – that is the connection between the ANC and the Indian community,” Sibiya said.
Back at Luthuli House, a memorial lecture in Timol’s honour is planned for this year, a small attempt to honour a giant who died young. No statues and town renaming yet, just a search for truth, justice and closure.