The racial Phoenix Massacre is woefully flipped into Indian victimhood by Dr Qurashaya Ishmail Sooliman


By: Clyde Ramalaine

The recent KZN and Gauteng unrests have found interesting expressions in our discourse. Anyone who ever doubted SA is a polarised and deeply racialised society must just read the comments, opinion pieces, even academic input of those who dared to publish their views.

Even more hypocritical and troublesome is the eerie silence of the usually loud Foundations such as Helen Suzman, Ahmed Kathrada Foundation, CASAC, FUL. Not forgetting the convenient other less structured but well-heeled SAVE-SA, Concerned Defenders of a SA constitution crowds that periodically emerge and seek a relevance, strictly limited to events around former President Jacob Zuma.
In the case of Ahmed Kathrada Foundation [AKF], who purportedly exists to work for non-racialism, South Africa asks where the outright and irrevocable condemning of these murders in Phoenix is? Why is there this strange silence? Shall we ask is it because Indians stand accused as the perpetrators?

There is no consensus in both ANC and State circles about describing the unrests of last week. Deputy Minister Zizi Kodwa led the parade informed by an apparent intelligence report of a coup-de-tat, insurrection, sabotage and instigators claims. More interesting, why was it Kodwa who announced the coup and not his boss Minister Dlodlo? Shall we accept that Dlodlo does not believe the concoction of a coup? Hence Kodwa was assigned to produce this what could be branded a kamikaze ANC factional intelligence report with certain Zuma sympathetic ANC leaders as its focus?

President Ramaphosa followed with his kragdadige army and police threats of responding to the instigators. It was now official that the recent unrests in Kwa Zulu-Natal and Gauteng constitute an apparent coup, notwithstanding every sign of a classical coup being non-existent. Defence Minister Mapisa-Nqakula, who initially stated this was not a coup, has now also made a forced u-turn.

If ANC structures and cabinet ever were to attempt honestly engaging the State-led bandied subjects of insurrection, coup, etcetera, the view as expressed by the Ramaphosa may fall flat. What we have is an enforced dictate that none should contradict the President’s statement. It does not matter whether the President is wrong or right we are now a state under dictatorship. How we speak of what happened in Kwa-Zulu Natal and Gauteng cannot be a straitjacketed and muzzled conversation directed by CR22 political interest. We warrant engaging Ramaphosa and his Government on his public claims of sabotage, insurrection, coup and instigators that increasingly prove without any substance.

Among those who shared their views is Dr Quaraysha Ismail Sooliman, project manager at the Centre for Mediation in Africa at the University of Pretoria.  Sooliman, in the introduction of her article as published in the most recent Mail & Guardian, categorically asserts, “The events of this week were not a mass mobilisation of the poor. This was not a protest movement against hunger, corruption or inequality. It was a mobilisation by corrupt, greedy politicians and their provocateurs to foment chaos, sabotage key infrastructure and topple the regime led by President Cyril Ramaphosa.”

From this opening statement, it is abundantly clear that Sooliman uncritically appropriated the notion of a ‘toppling of a Ramaphosa presidency’ as ventilated by the Ramaphosa crowd. Sooliman does not give us any concrete evidence for her claim of an agenda of toppling Ramaphosa. There is no evidence that there was an attempt at the seat of Government, meaning no march to Mahlamba Ndlopfu or Tuynhuis or even the Provincial seat of power.

Perhaps Sooliman unwittingly or consciously unveils where her political loyalty lies, which is her right. However, as a scholar, she is dutybound to explain her usage of constructs. It is furthermore expected of her to engage critically and to provide empirical evidence for these claims. Unfortunately, she fails to do any of the aforementioned. Maybe she was volunteering her hand for the position that Khumbudzo Ntshavheni is currently acting in.

The problem is not that Sooliman cannot have an opinion; she certainly is entitled to her opinion. The challenge is Sooliman’s naked attempt to render Indians victims at this time when African mothers mourn the killing of their children by Indians. We must problematise Sooliman’s usage of constructs such as coup, sabotage which wholly fail to explain and resort to assumptions that all understand what is meant with these constructs. It’s incumbent upon scholars who use constructs to explain their constructs and to justify their usage of such. The problem is her need to downplay in attempt of justifying Phoenix at the hand of the 1949 attack of Indians.

Sooliman goes further to assert, “What is manifesting in KwaZulu-Natal, possibly orchestrated during a cup of tea (when Economic freedom Fighters leader Julius Malema visited ex-president Jacob Zuma in February) resonates with the mentality of a sinister mind – Bell Pottinger 2.0. Sooliman then gives us a lecture on the poor. Perhaps key among her assertions is, “The poor know right from wrong, and they demonstrate amazing self-restraint.”

It is interesting how Sooliman sees the poor as knowing how to differentiate between right and wrong at the hand of them, showing amazing self-restraint. Sooliman claims the poor know their agency.

I want to agree though not for the same reasons that Sooliman advance. Instead, I could contend, the poor know they are being done a disservice. The poor see the injustice they suffer as a result of the brutal capitalist system. The poor know their state of poverty is inflicted upon them by the elites. The poor know their oppression is orchestrated, and they know who the oppressors are. In a sense, Sooliman’s prism of the poor for demonstrating restraint is somewhat patronising. It is as if Sooliman expects the poor to always show this what she calls amazing self-restraint.
Sooliman misses that the poor show their agency in using critical moments. Such a moment was the incarceration of Jacob Zuma. Sooliman’s analysis of the South African society is empty of admitting the keg powder of inequality South Africa is.

Unfortunately, for Sooliman, the need to close ranks around an apparent endangered Indian identity for which she pleads victimhood outweighs the consciousness of the legitimate racialised socio-economic challenges and the undeniable murders of blacks in Phoenix.Yet, these are not the central themes for Sooliman. That, unfortunately, is reserved for her notion of a dreamt up Plan B as the aim of those she describes in her  introduction.

According to Sooliman, Plan A was an attempted coup to get Zuma back in [political] power or at least to prevent key figures guilty of corruption and looting of state coffers. Sooliman’s conclusion appears mindless and a wholly unsubstantiated deduction that lays bare her wilful ignorance as to how democratic South Africa with its party-political- structure for governance produce presidents. Sooliman, the scholar, again fails to explain what she means with a coup and her Plan A and B in alternatives.

Anyone who knows what a coup means would realise it includes a march to the centre of political power necessarily led by a military member in organised manoeuvres to install a person as a direct replacement of whoever is currently occupying that seat of governance. I contend that Sooliman knows why she will not explain her usage of constructs without defining them because it would render her actual argument invalid.

The sweeping claims Sooliman makes at the outset of her opinion piece sets the scene for her dramatic claims of a conspired plan to identify Indians as a soft target. According to Sooliman, Plan B would satisfy those baying for Indian blood and could be sloganeered using the ‘they are racists’ arguments; the plan was simply to push the narrative that all Indians are racist and exploitative and that the masses are suffering because of Indians.”   Sooliman, in haste, to make her point conflates and unravels. She categorically claims some [Blacks] bay for the blood of Indians, in the sense of exclusiveness as if the same argument cannot be made of any of apartheid racial groups. She also appears to deny the existence of racist Indians. Thus, Sooliman attempts to shift our focus from what we saw, lived through in a Phoenix Massacre that attests bullet-ridden Africans mowed down by racist Indians because she needed to be tribal.

Using what she deems the continuing narrative in KwaZulu-Natal from 1949 of anti-Indian pogroms and dangerous rhetoric spewed by the Mayibuye African Forum she hopes to render Indians natural endangered species. According to Sooliman, it is argued that in 1949, 100 Indians died while over 300 buildings were destroyed and 2000 structures after an Indian shopkeeper in Durban assaulted an African youth. She claims the history between Indians and black people would thus sell the story.

On another score, it is perhaps worth noting that in Sooliman’s epistemology,  Indians are not black as advanced in Biko’s cohort but, exclusively Indian, we must surmise. It is interesting how Sooliman opts to remember in this season the 1949 incident. It is almost to say if you want to contend Phoenix a massacre, Indians suffered a worse massacre in 1949. One is not sure if 1949 is to serve as the natural antidote and rebuttal for any claim of the Phoenix massacre. We must, in good conscience, unfortunately, remind Sooliman and those who share this mind, the Indian agony of 1949 does not automatically eradicate or obliterate the Phoenix 2021 massacre for which many families of the victims share their anguish of still searching for their loved ones when most of them were found with bullet wounds.

A Phoenix crime and injustice Sooliman wholly evades. Sooliman cannot even muster the courage to ask questions on who died in Phoenix. Her obsession with pushing her propaganda does not afford her to pause and admit that specialised gunshots killed more than +23 black lives. She does not deal with the fact that in Phoenix, Indians were targeted, and blacks were not welcomed in the fallacy of an ‘exclusive’ Indian community in democratic South Africa under the guise of the protection of property.

Sooliman has no energy to engage the discrimination and prejudice served on blacks only because of their blackness.
Sooliman stands callous that Charmaine Intenhle Mhlongo’s 19-year-old son Sanele Mngomezulu seated in a minibus taxi, was shot and killed by having his left side blown away by pump action. Sooliman will ignore these murders because Mhlongo and others define what the Americans coined ‘ Black Lives’. Her response to Mhlongo is that Indians are victims since 1949. I searched in his article for a shared sense of basic human dignity to acknowledge the murdered and their families in dastard acts; my search found nothing.

What we did find is the actual Bell Pottinger propaganda of Indian victimhood. Convenient linkages between the rioters of a 1949 Indian assault and that of 2021. Sooliman sunk as low as to attempt abusing the 2.6% population size Indians make up of a South African population to bolster a sense of exceptionalism for Indians. For Sooliman, Indians are purportedly a tiny island in an ocean of ever-pervasive and impending threats of blackness. Her attempt to disown the role of racists who are Indian directly responsible for these murders is deplorable.

This must be the most straightforward form of denialism and utter shameful deflection since Sooliman could not even mention Phoenix. Dr Sooliman, shame on you for spitting on the graves of black bodies killed in Phoenix. You appear more interested in closing ranks in the cheap Indian tribal identity of victimhood.

Clyde N. S. Ramalaine
A Lifelong Social Justice Activist Political Commentator & Writer is a SARChi D. Phil candidate in Political Science with the University of Johannesburg. Chairperson of TMoSA Foundation – The Thinking Masses of SA