The first discriminatory legislation directed at Indians, Law 3 of 1885, was passed in Transvaal and was aimed at among others things, demarcating certain areas to Indians and ensuring that Indians did not own fixed property outside of these areas.
Motlanthe commended the role that Mahatma Gandhi, who lived in South Africa for 20 years, had played in the struggle against oppression in the country, particularly through his philosophy of passive resistance.
Gandhi’s views on the upliftment of all people and castes, of the equal treatment of women and of building bridges between peoples and religions remain relevant today, he said.
He pointed out Gandhi’s role in the stretcher bearer corps in helping the wounded Africans during the Bambatha rebellion of 1906.
When Gandhi left to return to India, his work was taken up by other leaders, such as Yusuf Dadoo, Farouk Meer, Ahmed Kathrada and Billy Nair.
“There were those who joined Umkhonto We Sizwe, like Mac Maharaj and Laloo Chiba, and still others incarcerated on Robben Island for their roles, like Indres Naidoo,” he said.
Motlanthe was optimistic that South Africans would one day be able to develop a common identity not based on ethnicity or race.
“We can reach a point of maturity in our national consciousness where it is second nature to think of oneself as a South African first and a black or white person after,” he said.
Motlanthe said that the country’s recent history, which spanned decades of non-racial struggle, should be an “unlimited resource” to moving South Africa forward.
“Based on this rich history thrown up by the act of the arrival of the Indian indentured labourers, we would do well to define the direction we are taking as a country today,” he said.
Racism in South Africa, he said, was a conscious effort at social engineering and can equally be defeated by conscious efforts.
He said justice, equality and economic well-being for all South Africans are critical elements in the expansion and deepening of a non-racial future.
“We must reach a point where this diversity in our collective life is not a mechanical practice or a contrived outcome, but an instinctive exercise that comes naturally.” – BuaNews