Speech by the Chief Whip of the ANC, Dr Mathole Motshekga, during the National Assembly Debate on the 150 years of the arrival of the Indian Community in SA

16 November 2010

Unity in Diversity

On this occasion of the 150th anniversary of the arrival of the Indian community in South Africa, it is befitting to strengthen the historical, cultural and family ties between our people informed by the values of inclusiveness, understanding and contribution of the Indian community to our South African identity.

When the Indians arrived in the colony of Natal to work on the sugar cane farms they were in fact no different from the African people who were hunted like animals, captured and forcibly transported to the Americas to work on the farms, in households and the construction industries that produced the great civilizations of Latin and North America.

These Indian, like African slaves and workers in America, came from diverse ethnic and cultural backgrounds but were united by their spiritual traditions which nourished their self - respect, self - worth and esteem, culture of self - help and self - reliance and a sense of development and progress. These values sustained their human dignity in adversity and aroused the disposition to associate with one another for mutual benefit.

While working as slaves on sugar cane farms and other industries the Indians, like Africans in the diaspora, rediscovered their spiritual traditions and harnessed them for spiritual growth and development. Thus they conducted their lives according to sound moral and ethical principles despite the adverse conditions in which they lived and worked. The arrival of Mahatma Ghandi provided them with a spiritual and political leader who enriched all South Africans. We should note, in particular, the principle of non-violent struggle that Ghandi shared with Martin Luther King.

The social and economic advancement of Indians in South Africa, like Africans in the diaspora, proves correct the wise words of our Icon, Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela, who said that social transformation cannot be achieved without spiritual transformation. The Indian community built its own temples and schools, mosques and cultural schools through which they preserved and practised their diverse cultures, religion and languages.

Similarly Africans in the diaspora rediscovered their heliocentric (i.e. sun centred) spiritual traditions which were taught by the African sage Khem or Thoth - Hermes. They built lodges for the preservation and propagation of their solar (kara) culture and religion. They practised this solar culture and religion in the Rosicrucian and Masonic lodges which could be traced back to the land of Khem, including ancient Ethiopia and Egypt. The devotees of Karaism (ie sun-centred religion) or Hermeticsm collaborated with Ethopian Christians who had seceded from colonial churches and established their own churches and schools. These institutions, like those of the Hindus and Moslems in South Africa laid the foundations for nation building and social cohesion in these communities.

The nationalist spirit kindled by these spiritual traditions and working class consciousness led to the formation of the Natal Indian Congress in 1894 and the Native Congresses in the four South African colonies at the beginning of the 20th century. It could be said therefore that spiritual traditions and worker consciousness catalysed the formation of Nationalist Organisations which became motive forces for the liberation of South Africa. The formation of the South African Native Congress (SANANC) in 1912, renamed African National Congress (ANC) in 1923 and the South African Indian Congress (SAIC) were the product of spiritual and workers consciousness. The pact of the three doctors, Xuma, Dadoo & Naicker in the 1940`s was the product of the peoples` movement.

It could be said therefore that moral and ethical values have always guided the founders of our nation such as John Langalibalele Dube, Mahatma Ghandi and Abdurahman who founded the African Peoples` Organisation (APO) in 1902. Abdurahman was a colored nationalist who used the words African and colored interchangeably to include both black and colored Africans, thereby transcending present day discriminatory differentiation between African and Coloreds which border on a new form of racism.

The proliferation of incidents of moral degeneration such as alcoholism, drug addiction, tragic killing of others including foreign guests, abuse of women and children such as drugging and raping of girl children at schools show that cohesive nations cannot be built without a value system. Provision of social services including water, electricity, and social grants without a value system underpinning them cannot produce self - respecting cohesive, caring and sustainable communities. Human development has both spiritual and material aspects.

Politicians alone cannot achieve both; they need partnerships with faith communities, including the Hindus, Moslems and Karaites - devotees of African religion who were colonized under Apartheid Colonialism.

In our work as public representatives and community workers and leaders we must learn from the Indian Community, the African diaspora and the founders of our nation, that social transformation cannot be achieved without spiritual transformation. Regardless of our cultural, religious and linguistic diversity there is a common thread that make all of us one in diversity. This is the maxim that says I am through others or I am because we are (motho ke motho ka batho). This Botho or Ubuntu philosophy was first echoed in 1892 by John Langalibalele Dube in his Public Lecture titled "Upon my Native Land". Dube foretold the birth of a new Africa that would be a spiritual, humane and caring society. These values were embraced by Dr. Pixley Isaka ka Seme in his 1905 oration titled "The Regeneration of Africa". Seme highlighted the importance of cultural heritage in nation building when he called for the creation of a unique civilization for Africa and Africans. In other words, nation building and heritage development could not be separated.

In his 1921 Public Lecture titled "We are not political children", Rev. Z. R Mahabane observed that Africans had been degraded and dehumanised and he made the recovery of the African humanity a prerequisite for the recovery of the humanity (botho/ubuntu) of all South Africans, both black and white. Mahabane planted the seeds of non - racialism which found expression in the Bill of Rights adopted by the ANC National Conference in 1923. The opening paragraphs of this Bill of Rights asserted the humanity of African people and demanded their right to participate in the economic life of the country.

It is not surprising that in its 2007 Strategy and Tactics document the ANC observed that the dark night of apartheid has been receding and called for a non - racial, non - sexist, united, democratic and prosperous South Africa in which the value of every citizen is measured by our common humanity - ubuntu or botho.

The adoption of a resolution for the establishment of a Committee on Nation building and heritage by this house is a recognition and acknowledgement by the honorable members of this house that Parliament has a major role to play in nation building and heritage development necessary for social cohesion.

The Moslem Ramadan, the Hindu Diwali festival and the African New Year and Rain - Making celebrations take place around September/October period. All these festivals, though not officially recognized are part of the living heritage of these communities and their celebrations serve to cultivate moral and ethical values within them.

The passage of a host of laws which were racially discriminatory evidenced the danger of separating law and morality. These values of a just and caring society should underpin our social and political order to prevent moral degeneration which manifests itself in, inter alia, corruption and related vices.

The establishment of the parliamentary Interfaith Council by this parliament recognizes and acknowledges the role that faith communities play in the cultivation of moral and ethical values in our society. This council will provide an interface between Parliament and faith communities to ensure that there is no watertight separation between law and morality.

The strict observance of moral and ethical values within Indian communities offers great lessons to African communities, especially in townships and informal settlements. The interaction of all our communities, both black and white, is particularly important as it affords South Africans opportunities to learn from one another, for mutual understanding, tolerance and respect.

The National Conference hosted by the National Heritage Council, the South African Departments of Arts and culture, Social development and education on the 31 August 2010 called for the recognition of Ubuntu day and resolved to launch a campaign for the restoration of Ubuntu values and principles given the deepening moral degeneration in our society such a campaign is long overdue. It hoped that all faith communities and civil society in general will partner with government including parliament and legislature to run the campaign for moral regeneration and restoration of Ubuntu values and principles.

The African Renaissance and Nepad, falling within the tenth strategic objective of parliament couched as the African Renewal, Advancement and Development should be an umbrella including a moral Regeneration programme driven by government, civil society and, in particular the Interfaith Movement. In this regard the classical Indian and African cultural heritage which were suppressed under Apartheid could make a great contribution to Nation building and social cohesion. It is hoped that the new committee on nation building and heritage development will become a parliamentary mechanism for the realization of an activist parliament and the African renaissance, renewal, advancement and development of the African Continent.

What we can learn from the Moslem and Hindu communities is that values cannot be cultivated by a plethora of charters without the necessary cultural institutions to teach these values and integrate them into school and out of school programmes. African communities have a lot to learn from the Moslem Madras schools and Hindu temple schools. The establishment of African cultural heritage centres along similar lines could contribute to moral regeneration, mutual understanding and tolerance, social inclusivity and development of South African and African identity.

The African National Congress is sending warm fraternal greetings to the Indian community on the occasion of the celebration of the 150th Anniversary of their arrival in South Africa.