Floyd Shivambu. Picture: MARTIN RHODES
Floyd Shivambu. Picture: MARTIN RHODES

This week I put on my Indian mantle and balled my fists at Eff chief whip, Floyd Shivambu’s racist rant. He called Treasury’s (Indian) deputy Director General Ismail Momoniat “unAfrican”, a pejorative term pregnant with unsaid prejudice against Indians (and every other ethnic group in this country).

Floyd is a plodding un-prepossessed man whose bitterness turns his plain face ugly as he spews hate.

UnAfrican? What does that mean? What does that make me, a child of this soil, who has been a part of the South African story from birth. Where does that relegate me?

This defence of my Indian-ness comes as a surprise to me. It’s a new feeling, this emotion tinged with pride at being Indian, at being an Indian South African, at being an Indian African. This emotion is also filled with rage; fury at having to defend my Indian-ness as being African, a Naidoo African.  

This story was told often around the Naidoo dinner table when my parents were alive, one that made us laugh till we cried even as it made us wince.

My chocolate coloured dad was watching my very pale skinned brother Anton while my mum tried on a dress in a staff toilet at Woolworths in Maritzburgl; darkies were not allowed use of the fitting rooms. Anton threw a temper tantrum, dad picked him off the floor, kicking and screaming. The store manager called the security guard thinking my black father was kidnapping a white child. The funny part was how Anton, when asked, stomped his foot and shouted: 'He’s Not My Dad!'

To put this all into context, I have to go back and tell you the story of my family, of my father – born Appalsamy Chinsamy Naidoo, called Chin for short by his siblings and his friends.

My lovely dad was a swarthy man; his saturnine face dotted with two dark, watchful eyes. Kind eyes. Wary eyes. Alert, vigilant eyes. I asked him once why he was always so heedful, why he never seemed to relax, he said something I only understood much later in my life: At this time in our history, you have to be very careful, he said. Remember that. Always keep your wits about you. Things might not be what they appear to be.

As an adult, it finally made sense. I was born in 1958, a short decade after the birth of apartheid. The first apartheid law that came into being was the prohibition of the Mixed Marriages Act of 1949, followed closely by the Immorality Act of 1950 which made it illegal for men and women across the colour line to marry, or to have sex.

These laws caused much fear for my anxious mother and helpless father. For a very long time, they were afraid that they would be fined, or even jailed, for being married to each other. To all intents and purposes he was Indian, she was Coloured with the Indian surname Maharaj. He was dark, more mocca than caramel, she was pale, her wan face pallid as a sheet.

When they met (as young teachers starting out at Windsor High School in Ladysmith, Northern KwaZulu Natal) and fell in love, mum was just 22 and my lovely Dad 21.

There were rumours of the impending changes that were afoot, to the introduction of this new law that would divide people up into race groups, and make them live in different areas. For my dad’s family, these stories were shocking, but bearable. The Naidoos already lived in a leafy part of Durban populated with mostly Indian families. His neighbours were traders – with an occasional professional, a doctor or a lawyer, among that number. But, the majority of people in the suburb were newly released indentured labourers who’d worked the sugar cane fields.

My mother’s family, on the other hand, was multi coloured, multi cultural. Mum’s Great Grandpa, Josef Vere was French. He arrived in this country with a wicker basket filled with strong smelling herbs, giving rise to family lore that he was an early homeopath of sorts.

Josef married five Zulu wives, and sired many children who went on to intermarry and produce children of their own. The family grew…  Zulu, white, Indian, Chinese men and women joined the ranks. It was a vibrant hotch potch of a family.

Because our family looked like a meeting of the general assembly of the United Nations, we never noticed race. I never thought of myself as particularly Indian, always acknowledging those parts of me that were other. And so, this week, over-identifying with my Indian-ness was new. And Floyd Shivambu is the cause.

I have been outraged by the Gupta’s, incredulous about the greedy reach of their tentacles in state capture. I’ve thought of them as “that dreadful Indian family” – in my heart I meant “that family that comes from that country India”. I didn’t identify, or feel ashamed of being Indian. Because I’m not just Indian. I’m an African Indian.

It feels as though there is some underlying, darker, reason behind this racist attack that attempts to make Indian South Africans unAfrican. Follow the Money, the catchphrase made popular in the 1976 docu-drama, All the President’s Men, might be an apt instruction.

SARS is being released from the grubby grasp of its state capturers. This means that, once more, Julius Malema’s supposed shady tax affairs are on the table for investigation.

This might just be an EFF attempt to throw shade on the Treasury’s deputy director general Ismail Momoniat so that the waters are muddied further along the line.

This statement put out by EFF national spokesman Mbuyiseni Ndlozi backs this up: “Whenever SARS comes to present in Parliament, Momoniat brings a parallel report, which always paints a bleak portrayal of African leadership in entities under National Treasury. When the SA Reserve Bank appears in Parliament, it is Momoniat who brings a parallel report and speaks like he owns the bank.”

It smacks of serious discrediting tactics.

Our Treasury manages national economic policy; it manages the finances of the government we elect; it prepares our yearly budget. Treasury requires ethical men and women of superior ability; men and women with a singlemindedness that is angled towards civic duty. Ismail Momoniat is all that.

Shivambu has a history of racism and bigotry. Eight years ago, as spokesman of the ANC Youth League, he texted journalist Carien du Plessis: “You must learn to respect people. I don’t comment on ANCYL issues and please stop being stupid. I wouldn’t want to earn respect from white bitches… so dream on.”

He’s sworn at, defamed and attacked journalists (white and brown). In 2013 he was made to apologise to a news editor Kashiefa Ajam for calling her a drunkard.

I’m not sure what Shivambu meant when he accused Momoniat of undermining African leadership, but African leaders can’t be happy with his defence of them since it implies that they are voiceless puppets. It’s unAfrican of him.