I was troubled by the news of rampant rioting, looting, and killing being reported from South Africa over the last couple of days. The incidents grabbed my attention, even more, when many news agencies reported that the Indian diaspora of the country was being specifically targeted by the rioters and the community had to pick up arms to defend themselves. I was forced to dig into the calamity to understand the fast-deteriorating situation and why the Indians were being targeted by the South Africans who themselves have been at the receiving end of generations of racial abuse and violence.

After doing some research, I understood that the riots initially started as protests against the indictment of the former South African President Jacob Zuma who was levelled with charges of large-scale corruption during his tenure as the President. Zuma was ordered to surrender but in his trademark style, he dodged arrest for 8 days. This time was utilised by his cronies to mobilize his supporters and use his hero-worship among the poor and downtrodden section of the South African people to flare up unrest. Once the protest got out of control, the situation got from bad to worse.

My research also told me that the Indian community was being targeted because of the nexus between the nefarious Gupta Brothers and Zuma. The Gupta brothers were Indian businessmen who migrated to South Africa in 1993 and bribed their way into major government contracts. They collaborated with Zuma and embezzled large sums of money. Interestingly, they were one of the key reasons that led to the expose of Zuma’s corruption and hence was hated by a large chunk of the South African population for very different reasons.

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At this point, I reached out to one of my teachers living in Johannesburg who runs his own software business to understand the ground realities there. He agreed to answer my questions and share his valuable insights on the current situation but chose to remain anonymous for security reasons.

Interviewer: 

What is the current scenario of the violence in South Africa?

Interviewee:

A tentative calm has been restored in South Africa after the police force has been deployed in the most affected areas. Police and private security companies are on high alert. More than 40,000 volunteers joined hands to clean up looted shopping malls, donate money and transport food to help the people directly affected.

Interviewer: 

Which are the places that are worst affected?

Interviewee:

The most affected places are in the province of Kwa-Zulu-Natal and Gauteng.

Interviewer: 

Please tell us about how the violence started

Interviewee:

The violence was incited by calls to free former president Jacob Zuma from Prison. He was recently sentenced to initial 15 months of jail as he awaits various corruption charges. The protests quickly descended into mass chaos. 72 people have died in the unrest and more than 1,200 people have been arrested in connection with the mass looting.

Interviewer: 

Are Indians being specifically targeted by the rioters and if yes why?

Interviewee:

Since Kwa-Zulu-Natal houses, the largest Indian population outside India and most of the unrest was concentrated in this area because this is also the stronghold of former president Jacob Zuma. The unrest resulted in businesses affected primarily belonging to an Indian businessman. The primary problem here is criminality, however, there is a secondary problem which is the racial connotation.

Interviewer: 

What has been the role of the police and the South African authority in controlling violence?

Interviewee:

The presidency has deployed a very large police force in the affected areas and it has managed to tentatively bring the situation under control.

Interviewer: 

Are you satisfied with what has been done to stop the violence?

Interviewee:

It is a bit premature to comment on the satisfaction level of the measures taken to stop the violence. However, the updates indicate a transition towards a more stable direction.

Interviewer: 

We also heard that the Indians were forced to take up arms and defend themselves. Is it true and if yes how far have they been successful in repelling the attacks on them by the rioters?

Interviewee:

Self-preservation is the fundamental intuition of human existence. In the recent riots and chaos, it is very natural for people to take up arms to safeguard the community as a police force alone may not be enough to control the violence.

Interviewer: 

Do you feel unsafe being an Indian in South Africa today?

Interviewee:

I do not feel unsafe considering I have personally not faced any kind of discrimination. People, in general, are welcoming and accommodating.

Interviewer: 

What ramifications do you think this incident will have on the Indian diaspora in South Africa?

Interviewee:

South African Indians have the same rights in the country as any other citizen. Hence only the future can hold an answer to the ramifications. As of now, South Africa is a rainbow nation in real sense where people from different races co-exist in harmony. The whole riot was more criminally motivated than a racial undertone.     



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