ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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South Africa: Impressions from Below

Uninformed first impressions often tend to be very subjective, not correctly reflecting the reality. On the other hand, through untrained eyes and an open mind one can observe many peculiarities which are liable to escape the more familiar watcher. What the author saw and heard on a group package tour of South Africa, Zimbabwe and Kenya.

As a member of a group package tour of South Africa, Zimbabwe and Kenya, I did not get any opportunity to have discussions and interaction with the South African intelligentsia. But I had ample opportunity to meet and talk to porters, bell boys, shop assistants, coach drivers and attendants, tour guides and occasionally with members of the public in shopping centres, hotel lobbies and airports. Individually they do not matter. But collectively they form public opinion. My attempt in this piece will be to capture, as authentically as I can, what I heard from them and what I saw. It is said that uninformed first impressions often tend to be highly subjective, not correctly reflecting the reality. On the other hand, through untrained eyes and a fairly open mind one can observe so many peculiarities which often escape a familiar watcher.

It was in Hotel Canabas in Sun City that I had a revealing experience about Indians and India. He was a black South African citizen attending to our table as a waiter in Plam Plaza, a grand eating joint for the rich. He was tall and handsome. Hesitantly, he approached me and enquired of my nationality. Having heard that I was an Indian, he said “India is a rich country. Many Indians come here to go to casinos. A few win but many lose heavily. But they come back again to play. Can you get me a job in India? I shall fully satisfy you with my service.” I was taken aback. The dark shadow under the glittering glow of Sun City came out starkly. He was an educated young man. He was a casual worker. He was given work for two to three days in a week on daily wage basis. He had to work for long hours into the wee hours of the morning. Supervisors would deduct wages for any fault. He was not sure whether he would get a call next week. He had to look after his family consisting of parents and sisters. Uncertainty, even about his casual employment, was causing him severe stress and tension. He wanted to migrate to India for a secure job having seen so many rich Indians in Sun City casinos. I learnt more about the burgeoning Indian bourgeoisie from him than from going through scholarly articles on the subject in the pages of this journal. To one of my queries he replied that Mbeki (the current president) was no good. Whites were on the ascendant again. The owner of this hotel and casino was a white Afrikaan who treated his coloured employees harshly.

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