About this site

This resource is hosted by the Nelson Mandela Foundation, but was compiled and authored by Padraig O’Malley. It is the product of almost two decades of research and includes analyses, chronologies, historical documents, and interviews from the apartheid and post-apartheid eras.

African/Indian relationship

In the 1980s Africans burnt down the Gandhi Memorial in a period of further unrest. Tensions in the broader community also surfaced in the MDM. Carl [Nyanda] to Pete [Ivan Pillay] 21 December 1989 "There have been several meetings in Durban held between the UDF/MDM core and several comrades concerned about the modus operandi of the Front as such. Concerns raised so far are about. 'The inadequacy of the projection of an African leadership of the MDM. Comrades say most times Indian comrades are projected as spokesmen for MDM etc.'" maharaj/vula comms/1989/December 21.

In a comm. to his wife Esther from Durban after he had returned to SA in March 1990 after a 30 years absence, Ronnie Kasrils wrote: "Yesterday I was with some comrades & we did a detour to drive Phoenix-Inanda boundary…. Little wonder that violence erupts; stoked by Inkatha. Spare a thought for the Indian people living on the frontline. There are constant rumours about impending attacks by the warlords on UDF and the comrades or simply by blacks on the Indian community." Danthemantojohnthedon (Kasrils to Jenkin for ff to Esther}[] maharaj/vula comms/1990/May 12

Within the MDM the friction also exhibited itself: from Harry Gwala's obsession with the Indian cabal to the divisive way in which the ANC went about organizing itself in Natal following unbanning. An unsigned report " Report on ANC Southern Natal Convening Committee (3 May 1990),  concludes that "…the present committee is dominated by individuals who have a history of opposition to the leadership of the UDF in Natal(the 'cabal') and it would appear that all, efforts have been made to avoid associating the new CC with the 'cabal.' P 7; The CC asked the UDF not to open an office next to the ANC as "they were two separate organizations and should maintain a distance from one another."  (p 7); and 'The picture that then emerges is that the composition of the CC is weighted very heavily in favor of those comrades who have very serious criticisms of the manner in which the struggle was conducted in the Durban region- who have been on the periphery of organization in the region; and that there appears to have been a deliberate move to leave out of the committee those comrades who have been involved in the building of the mass and underground structures over the past few years.' (p 8) Indians predominated in the building of these structures. See [] maharaj/ documents and reports/ other/ UCC Reps meeting with Terror Lekota -23 April 1990.

On  23 July 2006, City Press ran a front page story that Cyril Ramaphosa was preparing to enter the presidential sweepstakes. Befo9re Ramaphosa moved to douse the speculation, Karima Brown, political editor of Business Day  wrote a column on 25 July examining some of the obstacles that might stand in the way of a Ramaphosa candidacy in which she quoted "one senior government official saying ," If Cyril comes back, we will see the return of the Indians."

In the late 1980s the belief that an Indian 'cabal' existed were widespread at all levels of the movement and the extent of its supposed power, influence and manipulative capacity was a virtual obsession of Harry Gwala.  The ANC established a commission to look into the question, In Durban, where a vast preponderance of Indians lived, tensions between Indians and Africans simmered. Memories were long.

See "Report and Recommendations of the Commission on the Cabal at [] maharaj/ documents and reports/other/ [] :

"* Cabal: The issue has been raised consistently with the individuals who are said to belong to this grouping. Further, contact was reestablished with the u/g unit at the core of the so called cabal so the problem could be handled also - and more so - from this perspective. When the schisms resurfaced with greater vehemence last year, the movement resolved to meet NIC and TIC to discuss this among other questions: arrangement are under way for the proposed meeting(s). At the meeting with the MDM last March, a special commission was formed to look into the question and the specific practical recommendations which were adopted by the meeting (in addition to the more general ones regarding principles) were: to strengthen the UDF Commission looking into this question, to be composed of UDF/church leaders seen to be, and actually, above reproach on this issue (Beyers, Mkhatshwa, Chikane, Chris Dlamini, and any others from the Commission which was established by UDF Head Office); also to speed up the arrangement for a meeting of the movement with both sides: "Cabal" and "anti-Cabal". We have also warned very strongly against formation of "counter-Cabal" cliques.  In Natal, we have proposed that vigorous measures be undertaken by all democratic forces to seek out and develop African leadership capable of playing its leading role. We are made to understand that due to heavy work schedules the proposed UDF Commission has not convened as yet. "

This extract from "Report from the Underground," also sheds some insights on the two communities in the Durban metro area:

"-Indo-African conflict - we observed that this problem will remain with us for many years if we don't address some of the root causes which we identified as exploitation of domestic and small business workers by their Indian bosses and cases of ill treatment of these workers, child labour employment and limited grassroots participation of the Indian community with most activities limited at leadership level. This gives the opportunistic elements a chance to exploit the gaps.

Indo-African problem

In our discussion it came out that this is a serious problem and as long as we do not address the root causes it will remain with us for many years to come. It was also noted that there are some opportunistic elements who are exploiting the gap and that there is or are forces who are exploiting this situation and they are really touching where it hurts the people and that is why there is kind of reaction.  It is true that some people are not treated well by their Indian bosses, some are not well paid and young kids are made to work. This is not enough - we need to address this problem now for tomorrow it may be too late.  It is like a time bomb.  We must try never to be artificial in addressing this problem. Serious discussions must be conducted with the aim of arriving at a proper solution."

(Full text at [] maharaj/documents and reports/other/ [] Report from the underground 1990)

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