I'm a 44-year-old, 4th-generation South African Indian woman living in a province called Kwazulu-Natal. I read somewhere that we have the largest population of Indians outside of India. Not sure if that's still true, but you get the idea of how many of us there are here.
My family's been in SA since the 1800s. I've never been to India, and I don't feel any connection to it. I love Indian food and Indian clothes, hate Bollywood, and make fun of my parents' 'outdated' traditions. Yet I'm Indian. But I'm equally South African, and even though I lived for a decade in the UK, this is the only place that's truly felt like home, which is why I came back for good nine years ago.
I realized while living in the UK that as much as I was Indian, I was a South African Indian. I had more in common with the South Africans I met (no matter what racial group they were from) than I did with Indians from the diaspora. So it took leaving to realize that SA was indeed my spiritual home.
But while I feel like a South African, my country disagrees. This past week has almost broken me. It's made me question why I came back to a country that doesn't see Indians as actual South Africans. Here in SA, it seems, we are doomed to be outsiders even though we've been here for 160 years. The hatred for Indians is real.
South Africa has just had the worst week since the birth of our democracy. Protests over our former President's incarceration turned into violent looting and arson. We've been imprisoned in our homes while looters ran rampant in Kwazulu-Natal (KZN) and Gauteng, two very populous provinces. Businesses and property have been destroyed. Some may never recover.
What's awful is how the racial tension has boiled over here in KZN. What started as political protest became looting in no time. The apartheid regime separated Whites, Africans, Indians, and Coloureds and created its own national hierarchy based on race. Our communities were segregated and although the act no longer exists, our communities are deeply divided today.
Almost no police presence on the ground meant communities began defending themselves. 'Indian' neighborhoods felt particularly vulnerable and took up arms, barricading their suburbs against looters. But their defence is being seen as aggression against Africans. So it has become Indians vs. Africans, even though all South Africans had to defend themselves this week, and Indian communities were not the only ones patrolling their neighborhoods like vigilante cops.
This week as shops were looted and all South Africans feared for their lives, I found myself wondering if it was time for us to leave. But where would we go? The logical answer is back to the UK. But that makes me heartsore because I know SA is home. It's a no-win situation when the country you were born in, the country you love, rejects you because of who you are. It's like a mother turning her child away.
My son is what Brits call 'mixed-race.' A combination of South African Indian and White British, he identifies as Indian. He, too, believes SA is his home. It's all he's known since we came to live here nine years ago. So how do I explain to a 12-year-old that the country he thinks of as home doesn't want him?
Only time will tell if SA can heal itself. What I do know and understand after the recent riots and looting is that the racial tension is real. But so is the love that we all have for this deeply messed up country we live in.
With love from SA
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