This resource is hosted by the Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory, 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 It is the product of almost two decades of research and includes analyses, chronologies, historical documents, and interviews from the apartheid and post-apartheid eras.
01 Aug 1991: Salojee, Rashid
POM What I would like to talk to you about, as I indicated I am doing this kind of study over a number of years, is perhaps things related more to your personal experience of change in SA, what impact those changes have had on your life and what you observe going on in your community as it goes through this process, and where do you think it is all headed? Is that a large dish?
RS No it is no problem?
POM Maybe you could tell me about yourself first and then move on from there?
RS Since the last time that you came, which was last year just after the launching of the ANC branch in Lenasia, one of the things that has happened in Lenasia, for example, is that the ANC has not been able to translate its mass support into a constituency support, particularly in our area. There has been a great reluctance on the part of the people to get directly involved at membership level. I am a member of the ANC, of course, as we are in the minority and looking at the state of the world over, people are in a state of flux where they are not sure where to belong politically anymore. I think the other thing that has happened over the years is that the Indian community, which at one time when it came to the economic state were clearly at the low level of the economic structure, there has been a fair amount of upward mobility and in terms of class structure, a fair percentage of the people especially have climbed to the higher social strata. As a result of this, I think there is a perception, desire, and things have changed. As a result of this change they are a bit uncertain at this stage whether to belong to the ANC, whether to wait and see what the situation brings, whether to trust the NP and see whether it is a vehicle which ultimately will have to give a minority the type of clarity and the level of protection that they need. As a result of which, there has not been that sort of avalanche of support for the ANC as one would have like to see.
One other really big factor is that our community, which is fairly religious and conservative in essence, cannot reconcile itself with the SACP's role in the ANC, and I think the first perception when the ANC was unbanned was there would be nationalisation, etc. As a result of this, the level of political activity in our area has reduced in content, and public involvement. That has been a disturbing factor to us. Those are some of the reasons that I personally did not take a high profile position in the ANC, because I too had a few reservations about some of the things that immediately happened when the ANC was unbanned last year. It appeared to be a concentration at leadership level to respond mainly to the exiles and those that were coming out of prison. Most of us have had to carry the struggle during those years when these organisations were banned. We felt left out in most of the decision making, the whole process of democratisation, which we in the UDF had created from mass level decisions -bottom-up policy. Suddenly we found ourselves being irrelevant in the sense that decisions were taken at the top and we were virtually told what to do. I personally could not reconcile myself to that and I did not find it easy to say I would be able to make any effective contribution in changing that whole scenario at that time. So that is why I never took a high profile position in the ANC, despite the fact that the ANC wanted me in the NEC. Instead I continue to serve in the various civic organisations, other mass organisations, in the cultural and educational organisations. So in context I kept doing what I was doing before except that I was doing it at a completely different level where I felt that I had a certain level of independence to do what I thought should be done and not to be told by somebody what they believe to be the right thing and this is the only way things should be done.
POM Do you think the ANC has reoriented itself?
RS To a certain level yes. I think at the last conference it has shown that there has been a change in attitude and if you look at the new Executive where there are a lot of the people who were from the olden days, like Terror Lekota and Popo Molefe, all of these people have now found ways to get significant positions in this organisation. So there is a change. But there is still a reluctance in this community to openly accept that their future lies in the ANC. Like Lenasia for example, since the unbanning and the membership drive, the total membership in Lenasia which constitutes a population of about 100,000-200,000 people, the total ANC membership among these people is about 1200-1400 of which nearly about 40% of the membership comes from the homeless areas and the black areas. So when it comes to so-called Indian participation it is very limited.
POM Is there a fear here of squatter camps?
RS There are quite a number of them here and it has created fear. As a matter of fact there are certain areas in Lenasia where there is a high concentration of homeless people and the settled community are virtually trying to sell their homes and wanting to get out of Lenasia, especially now that the Group Areas has been repealed. There is a small percentage of people who accept the reality of the situation. We have tried to ally their fears. We have been working with the authorities in trying to upgrade the areas where the homeless live, in terms of basic necessities, so that we can reduce the points of friction between the homeless and the settled community. People are feeling that their property values are falling.
POM With the repeal of the Group Areas Act, when we look around here, and you think of the Repeal of the Group Areas Act, and the Land Act, the Separate Amenities Act, the so-called pillars of apartheid, do you, as a member of this community see any real difference?
RS About 10% of the people here have moved out of Lenasia. Some of them still have two homes, but a fair amount of them have moved out. Before, you used to have a lot of backyard tenancies, but that is now virtually non-existent. When you look at the group of people that have moved out, you find they are the ones who have the wealth and the resources to be able to go into those other areas. The average person has remained. So the repeal of these acts has made very little difference to the life of the average person.
POM One thing that happened in the United States, as someone brought up as a very interesting point in one of our conversations, that as integration made more strides one practical result was that wealthier blacks moved into the middle class white areas, and the only people left in the inner cities were the really poor, the downtrodden, the unemployed; the better off had gotten out, which aggravated the problems and the dynamics in the communities. Is there any possibility that that could happen here?
RS I think that at some time it possibly will. But I think at the present moment with the removal of the Group Areas Act, especially people from Lenasia have virtually moved into the centre of Johannesburg; if you look at Mayfair and Fordsburg and many of those areas, these are virtually in the centre of Johannesburg. Most of them have moved into those areas and some of those areas were very dilapidated and run down as a result of the poor whites and pensioners all living there. They have now upgraded those areas to an extent that they have become very attractive, viable and highly sophisticated. Initially people here moved into towns as a result of the emotional trauma of the Group Areas which had removed them from there and brought them here; now they are allowed to go back there. As far as I can see, in the future it will be same as the perception that you have of the States, as time goes along, with the hub of the city, the average wage earner will want to move back into the centre of the city where he has not been allowed before, as a result of which a lot of those people who have now moved into those areas, might again in the future be wanting to move out from there. Possibly not back to Lenasia, of course, but it might be to some of the middle class white suburbs around Johannesburg. But, I foresee that sort of situation in the future.
POM I want to go back to something very basic, and that is the nature of the problem negotiators will face when they sit around the negotiating table. There are a number of points that some would see as the problem, such as racial, the white minority domination of blacks, others would say it is nationalisms, other would say access to resources, others would say ethnic differences must be taken into account. What would people in Lenasia see the problem as?
RS Being a minority, I think security and the need to continue with their own cultural way of life and their religious freedoms and so forth. This is what people are worried about. What is going to happen to our homes, what is going to happen to our schools, would I be able to continue doing what I was culturally doing in the past? This is the basic nature of the problem in our area.
POM Would people tend to think that there are different ethnic groups in the African population or that the Africans are simply homogenous?
RS I think basically, because of the racial policies of the government, the larger majority of people have mentally looked upon the black community as homogenous, in the sense that they belong to a group, regardless of working class, being disadvantaged. You have the normal prejudices against poverty, similarly as they have in the past looked at the whites. Similar perceptions exist among the whites and the blacks about the Indians. They, the Indians, are a homogenous group. I think the apartheid system has left that legacy which is going to take time for it to break down to realise that there are people that are of different social standing.
POM When the violence that broke out here last year continued on through the year, were people out here inclined to see the violence as between supporters of Inkatha and the ANC, or as violence between the Zulus and the Xhosa speaking people.
RS I think it started off as a political fight. From the very outset there were many difficulties for the UDF and the organisations to establish in Natal and a lot of the violence initially -
POM Sorry, that is not what I am asking. I am talking your community's fears when the violence started in the Transvaal.
RS They looked at it as more of an ethnic situation rather than a political one. I think the political perceptions of people are very naive and very basic and they merely felt that it was an inter-ethnic thing, and I think amongst the Indians it possibly manifests itself far more subtly as a result of contact with India, where this type of thing is also prevalent. Every Indian perceived it as such. I think even at the present moment they do not accept that the government had some role to play in the violence. When I say 'the government' I don't mean De Klerk must be directly involved, he might be sincere for all I know, from what I see of him, I have great respect for what he has been doing, but we realise that bureaucracy has formed this conservative and racist attitude in the NP ranks. The ethnic part of it cannot be ignored because there has always been tension between the ethnic groups though, because of the socio-economic factors, and because a lot of especially the Zulu people have been robbed in Zululand and have been housed in hostels mainly, as opposed to the average residents.
POM Would the community have any foreboding that this is probably what it is going to be like in a new SA, people fighting each other on an ethnic basis and we can get caught in the middle, etc.?
RS Yes. What we ask ourselves is what will happen it spills into our areas? But surprisingly in most areas it has not really spilled into the Indian areas. If you look at the very recent one in Kagiso where you have an Indian community just across the street from where there was massive violence and so many people were killed, a lot of the blacks came into the Indian area and they stayed in the Civic Centre there, and the Indians cared for them during the period when they had nowhere to go. None of the violence really came into the Indian areas at all. And yet, you see, for example, the squatter situation, people are saying that this can happen. What will we do? But there still hasn't been any evidence that violence can and will spill into our areas. I mean even in the squatter areas we have there are about ten different factions and there have been internal squabbles and fights all the time for the last four or five years. We have been helping to diffuse the situation going on there and doing something. Nothing of that has really been a problem to us, the homeless have become part of the settled community.
POM When you say ten different factions, what do you mean?
RS They are not necessarily ethnic factions. A lot of it is leadership positions, a lot is group positions, those that were there before, the new ones that have come in from other areas, they also want to take leadership positions, etc. As a result of this there have been killings and all sorts of things. Fortunately, we have been able to go in there and patch up some of the problems for a while. None of it has hit back on us. So far people have been prepared to listen to us.
POM Has the violence made people more fearful of what the future will be like? Have they become more politically conservative?
RS Yes, they have. This is why when I say to the ANC, I think there is now a tendency to look at the NP as an alternative to the ANC as far as the political Indian support is concerned, and I think that Mr. Mandela at the conference also made that clear when he asked why aren't Indians, coloureds and more whites joining the ANC?
POM You said that there is a reluctance to believe that the government might have had a hand in the violence?
RS Yes. Many people want to believe that. One of the reasons of the rich is that in the end they are going to support the NP and they don't want to be seen to be supporting a party which they should not be supporting. But there is a group of people who will not accept it, or will say that I know that the government was responsible but other people have been responsible for the violence themselves as well. In the beginning where was the government? The ANC was responsible, Inkatha was responsible. As a result the question in everybody's mind is surely the government has the right to intervene at certain levels in order to bring back some sort of stability in the whole situation. But a lot of them see the NP as what will give them security.
POM They would like the police force taking control?
RS Yes they would.
POM What about the effects of Inkathagate? Did that have any effect? Did that raise people's interest here?
RS It was not much of an issue as it would have been ten years ago. Then it would have been a tremendous thing in terms of its political implications in our areas. But at the present moment they took it as if it was a non-event, but the average person was not moved.
POM Why do you think that is?
RS There is a perception that just as much as the liberation movements have the right to get support from elsewhere, why should a group which is working towards stability, and would like to support the government, why can't the government support them as well?
POM Is it correct to interpret what you have said by saying that there is political disengagement, people have dissociated themselves from parties while waiting to see what is going to happen?
RS They have disengaged themselves tremendously. I remember during the times of the worst repression if there were public political meetings in the area, even under those severe circumstances we used to have cars feeding most of the car parks and we had the meeting. Today if we get a few hundred people at a political gathering, you are fortunate.
POM This may be more a question for your own opinion; what is the NP is after? What do you think the government is looking after in its own interest?
RS I think it is a natural reaction that at the end of the day no government would like to hand over power over in toto if they believe that the final result of that would be their total subjugation. Therefore, I think they are hoping that in the process of change, they will still have an important role to play in the government of the future, even though it might not be a majority role. At least a role where they would be able to influence the politics of the country.
POM A lot of people I have talked to put no faith whatsoever in the polls conducted in this country. But a number of polls done have shown that some form of power sharing government, with the NP being the junior partner in the arrangement, would be acceptable to a majority of the people, including supporters of the ANC. How do you feel?
RS Yes I would find that an acceptable arrangement for the simple reason that if you look at our economy at the present moment, it is in a terrible state. For us to regain confidence in the country the foreigners are going to have to see a semblance of security, a semblance of normality, before anybody is going to put in anything into this country. If it is going to go into the hands of the vast majority on the one side, the uncertainty will still remain and I don't think, first of all, investors have got confidence in that situation, and I don't think the internal confidence amongst all groups as a result of the apartheid system would find that sort of security which they feel we would have. As a result of which it might result in a lot of loss of skilled manpower from the country. There are all sorts of scenarios which can I believe, be disastrous. And I think, in the initial phase a government of national unity, reconciliation, or whatever we call it, I think it would be good for the country.
POM Do you see the government, under any circumstances, giving in to the ANC's demand to resign and become of a broader based multi-party interim government?
SR At the moment, that does not look very promising. But if at the multi-party congress some sort of mechanism is worked out where the interim government would be seen to be an interim government of reconciliation, that sort of situation, I think the government might respond to it. Because at the end of the day, even in the new constitution, that is the situation that we are all looking towards achieving. I think if one is able to achieve some of those important factors in the new interim government, then I think the government might have to look at it.
POM Do you think they would actually - ?
RS I don't think they would actually abdicate, that they would not do.
POM Will they ever get to the position which the ANC is asking is asking for, where they find they have voted themselves out of existence, where they form a new government in which the ANC would have part, if De Klerk did that it would be political suicide?
RS Of course it would be. I can't see him agreeing to that and I am not sure if I were in his position that I would agree to that.
POM But the ANC, the way the Working Group is talking, that is what it is asking for. They are not going to bend on that.