ANC rejects call to revive Natal Indian Congress

August 14th, 2008 - 1:40 pm ICT by IANS  

By Fakir Hassen
Durban, Aug 14 (IANS) The ruling African National Congress (ANC) has rejected calls by one of its stalwart Indian-origin veterans, Fatima Meer, that one of its strongest allies in the apartheid era, the Natal Indian Congress (NIC), be revived to counter disillusionment with the ANC within the South African Indian community. Former NIC leader and currently ANC MP Mewa Ramgobin described any call for the revival of the organisation, started in the days of Mahatma Gandhi’s tenure here, as “opportunistic”.

Ramgobin, who was a leading figure in reviving the NIC as an active body during the struggle against apartheid in the 1970s after many years of dormancy, told the weekly Post here that the needs of the Indian community were guaranteed by the South African Constitution.

“There is no need for the revival of the Congress. Our Constitution was put in place to protect the rights of all South Africans, irrespective of race, colour or creed,” he said.

“Many Indians participated in the struggle for democracy which we have now attained. Reviving the Congress would be a contradiction of what we all fought so hard for.”

Another ANC stalwart and granddaughter of Gandhi, Ela Gandhi, once married to Ramgobin, said there was no need for “another political party, but for a voice for the Indian community”.

“Multiple voices are conflicting and had divided the community in the past. At present the Indian community is not united and this is our greatest downfall,” Gandhi said, commenting on the divisions of language and religious affiliation among South African Indians.

Veteran politician Amichand Rajbansi, once vilified for having been the chief minister for the Indian house in a tri-cameral apartheid parliament and currently leader of the Minority Front - an ANC ally - said the call to revive the NIC was “a case of sour grapes”.

“In 1992 I proposed the revival of the Congress (but) the idea was shot down by Fatima Meer who said it would be a perpetuation of apartheid. She said a new South Africa was coming and there was no need for it,” said Rajbansi, currently regarded by many as a strong voice in government for the Indian community.

Meer, a celebrated sociologist, historian and long-time friend of Nelson Mandela with her late husband Ismail Meer, has been foremost in recent weeks in expressing dissatisfaction with the ruling ANC because of rampant corruption and in-fighting within its ranks and the declining Indian representation in government.

ANC provincial chairman Zweli Mkhize, emphasising that the Indian community had a home in the ANC, said the feelings of isolation (by the ANC) were not restricted to the Indian community, adding that the ANC was addressing concerns about “the lack of Indian representation”.

ANC provincial secretary Senzo Mchunu also confirmed that the party recognised the identity of South African Indians and its long association with the ANC as they fought the common enemy of apartheid.

“These claims by Fatima Meer are perceptions. The ANC wants to forge better relations with the Indian community and addressing their concerns is high on our agenda,” Mchunu said.

But while the politicians attack Meer’s view, she appears to have support on the ground.

Reactions on the letters page of the weekly Sunday Times Extra were almost unanimous in their support of Meer’s views, expressed in the newspaper a week earlier, that the ANC would not get local Indian support in the elections next year.

“In the past, the ANC convinced me that they had the power and will to run this country very efficiently. Now I feel they have abused the power and trust that we have given them,” wrote Trevor Pillay.

Shehana Gabie wrote: “The ANC I fought beside when I was a student was one where our leaders were imprisoned for fighting for the freedom of their people. The ANC today consists of a group of anarchists who threaten ordinary people wanting to exercise their rights to choose their own leaders.”

“My visit to Australia, New Zealand and London (where thousands of South Africans have emigrated to) last year revealed that ANC supporters abroad have lost faith and hope in the organisation. They are of the opinion that people should look to another party to lift South Africa from its downslide,” wrote Kamal Panday, a member of the Inkatha Freedom Party.

But it was a comment in a letter from Ashwin Kuarjit Singh in the Sunday Times Extra that summed up the general view among South African Indians, who talk about these matters in closed circles all the time, but rarely, if ever, have been bold enough to speak out as openly as Meer has.

“Indian cultural dynamics render our community apathetic and fixated at levels where they resist challenging the status quo,” Singh wrote.

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