How the Indian community is dealing with the riots in South Africa

Civil unrest raged for nearly 10 days in parts of South Africa after its former president, Jacob Zuma, was arrested for contempt of court in a corruption case on July 7.

Narendh Ganesh nearly missed a bullet as he was in the midst of gunfire between Indian South Africans and crowds on the night of July 14-15. Civil unrest raged for nearly 10 days in parts of South Africa after its former president, Jacob Zuma, was arrested for contempt of court in a corruption case on July 7. Thousands, allegedly Zuma supporters, vandalized, looted and ransacked shops, commercial establishments and national roads. Crowds went wild, attacking neighborhoods, including the originally Indian neighborhood of Narendh on Duff’s Road, located in KwaZulu-Natal (KZN) – the epicenter of the riots.

Arson and looting has broken out in parts of South Africa with large Indian communities (among others) – the city of Phoenix in Durban in KwaZulu-Natal province and parts of South Africa province. Gauteng, keeping the locals on their toes. Residents of the Duff’s Road suburb in Durban North have started a night patrol, guarding against any intrusion, Narendh told TNM. “Late on July 14, a crowd broke into our neighborhood. We quickly evacuated the women and children, but not all. Although we alerted the five to six police forces in the area, they initially said that they could not enter the suburb without instructions from their respective commanders. Many residents, meanwhile, took up arms to defend themselves and their homes while the crowd threw a Molotov cocktail on one of the houses, ”recalled Narendh, who is the president of his civic association. After five to six rounds of allegedly intermittent gunfire, the tension was eased.

Everything is calm, for now at least, Narendh said, “but we don’t know for how long.” As the political situation in South Africa turned into criminal acts, the riot left in its wake unemployment and inflation of essential items. The anger among its original black residents has taken on racial overtones against Indians and people from other communities, on social media and apparently on the streets. Even as fear of another episode of violence grips them, the country’s Indian community – Indians and South Africans of Indian descent – are now focused on supporting and protecting each other and other communities. through food packages, baby food, groceries, sanitary napkins, fundraising for essential food items and even night patrols.

Coping with the food shortage

At a time when food insecurity remains the immediate concern of residents, Indians and other communities have stepped in not only to help their own, but also all residents of all communities in need. “There was a massive food shortage in the first two days of the riots as shops were looted. Locals panicked, wondering how they could buy basic necessities such as bread, a bag of rice and milk, ”Ali *, an Indian South African from Durban Overport, which has a large population people from Muslim and Indian communities. While long lines of people lined up outside stores, some stores limited the number of people entering at a time. While a few stores have heavily inflated the prices of basic groceries, many others have kept prices in the midst of the shortage, he said.

To cope with the food shortage in the affected areas, it was necessary to source basic necessities from other parts of the country. However, the supply of the food chain has been disrupted as several national highways and arteries have been closed due to the riots. Indian residents and people from other communities in Johannesburg, who have been affected in some areas, have sent food and other aid to residents of Durban. However, the main N3 motorway connecting Durban and Johannesburg has been closed.

“KZN’s ports have been closed, Durban’s stores and malls have either been looted, torched or shut down. Even the distribution centers were looted and set on fire, leaving the people of Durban without access to food and aid. We had to wait for the N3 motorway to reopen before we could transport food and aid to Durban, ”said Nishant *, a South African Indian living in Johannesburg, who, with his brother, owns a trucking business. like many Indians in the country.

The N3 motorway, on the other hand, is a notorious trade route where trucks carrying food supplies have been targeted and set on fire in recent years, he said. Several trucks carrying immediate essential supplies were escorted to Durban by the South African army and police. “Indians living in Johannesburg and some in the white community have helped with donations of food and aid,” Nishant told TNM as he prepared formula and diapers to be transported to Durban. Johannesburg was not badly affected as residents, including the black community, quickly defended the malls, which house supplies, he added.

South Africa’s Sikh community is also doing its part to alleviate the food shortage. The Sikhs form a small community in South Africa. “We run langar seva (Sikh community kitchen serving food for all for free), where we serve a hot meal each day in our gurudwara in Durban for residents of the immediate and neighboring areas. We are working with local businesses and individuals to organize a food drive and distribute food packages, ”Sikh community member Jasleen told journalist Rajan Nazran Singh in his report. Podcast for the World Indian Series, which tells stories from the ground.

Guarding communities

Civil unrest in South Africa has made life of 337 people, including some Indian South Africans who were caught in the shootout. Many Indian residents of Phoenix – one of Durban’s largest Indian townships except Chatsworth – sent desperate pleas for help as their homes came under fire. “The greatest damage from the civil unrest is the anxiety and fear it has induced among Indian communities,” Ali said.

Amid reports of another protest on Friday July 23, and fearing another arson attack, Indian communities across the country organized themselves into teams to carry out night patrols. Ali from Overport in Durban also contributes by helping with neighborhood watches. “On July 18, as crowds moved through various neighborhoods, ransacking and looting shops, buildings and gas stations, many neighborhood watch groups gathered. We set up roadblocks near street entrances and take turns controlling the flow of traffic in and out of communities. These barricades are intended to serve as a deterrent because residents fear that crowds will burn or loot their homes, ”he said.

“We also asked the volunteers on the night patrols to exercise caution and restraint if anyone walks past. We asked them not to respond unless provoked, ”said Narendh, a fifth generation Indian from Bihar.

Amid the cases of racial attacks on a few Indians during the riots in South Africa, Narendh is currently formulating ways to form a social coalition between different communities. A garden, that’s what he designed. “Here, members of all communities can plant vegetables in this garden and share their produce with each other,” he said, adding, “You can’t just ask another person to stop. racial discrimination, but find ways to gradually eliminate those differences. “

Bringing communities together

The wave of attacks that began on July 8 is considered one of the worst since post-apartheid in 1994. The riots alone cost KwaZulu-Natal alone over 20 billion rand (100 billion rupees). India) and made around 1.50 lakh of jobs vulnerable to risk, reported Courier and tutor, a South African news site. Businesses that have been burnt down may never recover, some Indian residents say. Most businesses in South Africa are owned by Indians, whose ancestors migrated from British India to South Africa as contract workers and migrants in the late 1800s.

The riots added to the setback caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, Nishant said. “We are trying to create more jobs, but the economy is collapsing fast. For example, our textile industry has completely collapsed due to imports from China, and thousands of people have lost their jobs, ”Nishant said.

However, what all Indian South Africans unequivocally emphasized was the demonstration of solidarity among all communities. “It was devastating, but people stayed together regardless of their ethnicity and what they lost,” Jasleen said. “I saw the Indians of South Africa stand together for the first time. We have protected our homes and our neighborhoods, helping the elderly and the needy, ”Nishant said.

(* Names changed on request)

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