A Letter From South Africa
As with some Indians in South Africa, I'm not exactly sure where my family originates. One day, I hope to trace my roots. All I know is that my maternal great-great-grandfather worked in the fields and was offered the chance to go to Africa. I believe he met my great-great-grandmother in South Africa, but I don't know much more about their story. My gran recently passed away, and because of her tough childhood, she wasn't always keen to speak about her history.
I live in an area called Verulam that used to be a farm town. In South Africa, you'll find that most Indians are from Durban in a province called Kwa-Zulu Natal.
The environment I grew up in was very diverse. An older Black woman who helped around our house was almost like a second mother to us. She came into our family when my older sister was two months old, and she's still a part of our family today.
Although I lived in an Indian part of Verulam, there were people of all different races at the school I attended. Diversity wasn't a common theme, as it was the early 2000's and apartheid hadn't ended too long ago. However, my first friend — who is still one of my closest friends today, is Black. Neither of us thought anything of it. We loved each other and were joined at the hip.
In the neighborhood behind our house are some RDP houses (government-built houses for low-income families). Many of the people who live in the housing are Black. My sister and I were only the kids in the neighborhood when we were young, so naturally, our friends were the kids from the RDP houses. In many other Indian areas, either RDP houses or informal settlements are bordering them. If I'm honest, there is a racial tension. It's not necessarily spoken, but we all know it's there.
Growing up, my friends were a group of girls of all different races. I was the only Indian girl in the group for a while and went through my own mini-identity crisis. To some extent, I felt embarrassed to be Indian, which made me stick with my friend group a lot more. However, that all changed when I got older, and I started appreciating my culture and religion. It's common to feel embarrassed as an Indian here. From being told we have white accents to the smell of our food. I can happily say I can see how ignorant people can be, and it's much more vital for me to be a part of my community than to be embarrassed by it.
I never fully realized the racial tension among the Indian and Black communities until a boy in high school told me that he hates Indian people. Of course, I was hurt but mainly confused. During apartheid, all PoC were discriminated against, but I'd be lying if I said the discrimination was the same. Black people had it the worst, which I believe created some tension when Indians and Coloureds (multiracial ethnic group native to Southern African who have ancestry from more than one of the various populations inhabiting the region) were able to succeed after apartheid. As a result, Black people also felt anger and hate towards PoCs, which was reciprocated.
I feel sick to my stomach hearing the comments, the slurs, and the hate, from both sides. Indian aunties who have Black domestic workers. Black company owners who have Indian employees. Racial quotas at universities where an Indian kid could achieve a high aggregate score in grade 12 and get rejected from university, but a Black kid with a lower score would get accepted. I feel it makes sense in certain situations as Black people are still the most disadvantaged and the majority. So, they deserve the most opportunities. But at the same time, I can relate to the frustration of working for years to get good grades only to be rejected over something like race that you can't control.
Our experiences as South Indian women in South Africa depend a lot on our childhood and upbringing. For example, my parents don't make racial comments, so it's easy for me to understand that making them is wrong and treating people differently based on their race is wrong. But not all Indian kids can say the same. I also think that because so many important people in my life are from different race groups, it's easy for me to see and love people who don't look like me or have the same culture, religion, and views that I do.
I love my country. I feel so spiritually and emotionally connected to this place. I've never been to India, and this is the only home I've ever known. My family has been here since the early 1900s, so it hurts when you think about the racial tension. But, on the other hand, I feel in many ways that what's happening now may even feel like a relief for some people because they get to release that frustration towards other race groups. Today I was speaking to my friends, the same ones I've had since my first day of kindergarten when I was three, and we were all saying that we don't see ourselves raising our children here after this. In South Africa, before anything, you are your race. Before being a doctor, teacher, domestic worker, you are your race. It's almost like an unchosen personality trait that you're born with.
We’d like to hear from South Asian/Indian/Pakistani/Bangladeshi and Sri Lankan people living in in South Africa. If you've got a story you'd like to share please email