I’m too Indian to be African:The Universal Child. PART ONE… by Fiona Khan

I am South African! Born as a third generation Indian within a diaspora that has slaved to preserve its identity from the cane fields of slavery in Kwa-Zulu Natal to the pinnacle of success as a democratic South African. I may not have descended from the plantation Coolies as they were called, nor the merchants or the Jahajis who sailed the passenger liners to grace the shores of Durban, but I do hail from a family of middle class background sold to the delusional ideologies of the British Raj and their colonial intricacies of keeping Natal as the last outpost.

We try inexplicably to divest ourselves from the past by screaming ‘decolonise the mind, the heart and the soul’ from the over-zealous millennials but, was it not the very authors whose portent stories of impending doom of religion, culture and heritage writing in the Queens English? Were they not colonised and scarred by the compulsion to Christian education, English as the primary language and enslavement? Was there not an enslavement of the mind before the cleansing of the mind from slavery and subjugation? Colonialism entrenched into the lifestyle of most middle and upper class allowed many of the colonised to aspire to the bourgeoisie of living beyond our limitations, zapping credit cards until it is maxed, overextending our credit and drowning in the capitalist debt yet we still cry freedom, breaking the shackles within the theatre of the mind . . . and I am still not treated nor classified as South African but constantly reminded that India is my home. But how can India be my home? The India my grandparents exited was a united Mother India. Now, the India I have come to accept rejects me as a Muslim foreigner who probably has roots in Pakistan and Pakistan rejects me for being a descendent of India. The dregs of partition. Caught in this conundrum I can only admit being a Universal child and an orphan of this world.

Three generations later and I am bound to admit that ‘I Am An African’ however, even Africa rejects me. I too have been enslaved by colonisation where I have now forgotten my own indigenous language, the language of my mother from our motherland, the language of the Indo-Pak. How can I speak and be spoken to in my home language Urdu when it is not even recognised as an official language in South Africa and then again it is the second most common language spoken in the world? I despair as I observe my children and my children’s children wrestle with a language they do not speak nor understand. Within this diversity, which we celebrate, we are also lost and like scatterings we disperse in a diaspora of forgotten knowledge, skills, values and tradition and culture with my mind enslaved by a conditioning of the colonial past. Am I too English to be African?

I am african by selvan naidoo
 Artwork displayed at the 1860 Heritage Centre called ‘I am an African’ by Selvan Naidoo. The artwork commemorates the 150th anniversary of Indian arrival in South Africa. This series of 15 panels posits questions of heritage and identity that culminates in a reflection on the many Indian lives that were lost in the sugarcane fields of KwaZulu-Natal either through suicide or murder and subsequently in the struggle for freedom.

Islam may be my way of life but in a generation of mixed identities, born frees, Western media exposure and lifestyle and the concept of being too westernized to be African, I am in a cauldron of trying to find where I fit in. With a relatively new democracy it takes a hefty measure of courage and self- confidence to boldly admit I am an Indian sandwich. I am softly targeted for being a feminist even though I am not so sure what feminism means to me anymore. Divorced, single, carefree, my dress code and personality, my total indifference with a marble resolve to address the various upturned noses, I choose to write my own rules and live within the parameters of what I believe to be the ultimate in transcendence as I am forthright with confidence garbed in a hard-assed attitude where I learn love is blind and forgiving but, society is not.

Compelling is the total avoidance of being in my company while I break barriers and set trends but, who is an educated, self-confident woman who becomes a pariah in the community for being a non- conformist liberating the minds of the subjugated and those of whom are silenced through patriarchy? I observe the distancing of the opposite gender that does not want to engage with an erudite woman in the Indian community. They nod their heads in acquiescence or smile and look sheepish acknowledging my presence then lower their gaze. I am taken aback by this acquiescence as tradition and culture has taught me that women ought to be coy and lower their gaze in the presence of Man. Now we are blamed for being too liberal in our liberation and too free in our freedom to be reigned into homes and settle into subdued home executives.

During apartheid white monopoly, racial segregation and apartheid or the colour bar changed a rainbow into colours jaded by distinct lines separating the chiaroscuro. It was frowned and scorned upon by the world even though some countries supported it with weapons and finance to create economic and racial disparity. Now its apartheid in reverse! It is all about being black and whether one is a darker shade even though you are classified as Black. Being Coloured is now the lighter shade of black and being Indian is being a darker shade of Coloured but a whiter shade of Black. This social strata reigns among the Black middle and upper class and the grassroots are left to rot in their excrement and grow in poverty and socio-economic shackles. The country has now been redefined along undefined language of state capture, radical economic transformation and how heavily the rand weighs against the dollar and the pound whereas the masses worry about the increase in the petrol price that will inflate the price on consumables. All they are left to eat is peanut butter, jam and Rama margarine. While the capitalists laud their successes by singing songs of my mother was a kitchen girl and my father was a garden boy and that is why they deserved the plundering and of state coffers, state capture and corruption, we sing songs of cane fields, riots and rape and being disenfranchised with BEE, AAA and EEE.

The identity of ‘I Am a Proud African’ is besmirched with the dystopia of corruption, bribery, state capture through a silent coup and the identity of being proudly democratized. This has disseminated the identity of every South African. The mantle of pride of ‘I am an African’ of Pixley ka Seme, Oliver Tambo, Steve Biko, Nelson Mandela and Thabo Mbeki is literally besmirched like every other African country, as I try to decolonize my mind as expostulated by Kenyan author Ngugi wa Thiong’o, and my heart from the colonial education of institutions and become a medium of change decolonizing the literature and minds of the youth as I educate them. I am a melting pot of culture, religion and tradition as an Indian but as an African, I am a colourful fusion of Afro-Indian in a place where literacy and ethnicity has transformed into new languages, music, dance and fashion trends, into new cultures and new identities. My heritage hails from a country called India but, what is India but a divided country searching for its own identity in a revolution of sectarianism and religious division. I speak proudly of a country that is associated with my heritage but even that country has become divided with the partition. I am a South African, my Tree of Life has now twisted into entangled roots and gnarled branches. The fruits we bear are stamped and sold to the ideology glamourized by the West that all things in life must be influenced by a Western culture for it to be accepted and traded for its authenticity. Our children are sold on this concept of the Now Generation: I want it All and I want it Now! Even marriage is purely contractual, and love and family are all about singlehood. The nucleus of society has evolved to suit the changes through the Imagineering of a new generation. SQ(EQ+IQ) = U. Accept, our spirit and religious consciousness has transformed into colonized instantaneous frivolity frilled with media preachers and thumpers who make religion mediocre.

It is difficult being sandwiched between two monopolies as I find the continuous polarity abandoning the new identities and an entirely new generation of born frees, lost and confused as we the nation continuously try to bridge the gap as monoliths of colonial past. Ours is a fledgling democracy, a blueprint for countries embracing all who live in it. I am an African and proudly South African. Islam is my way of life and being Indian is my ancestry. Being Human makes me a universal child.

Religious freedom in South Africa is our pride but within the religion itself there are dichotomies of segregation and divisive lines of caste, creed and language. Tradition and culture resonates within families transcending generations of modernity imbued with Westernization and a media culture being trolled. However, as we extricate from one generation to the next, language, tradition and culture are shrugged off like an old mantle as the youth embrace the pop, rap and street culture of modernity with English as the mother tongue and English being evolved into cultural slang. How does one discard the ghosts of colonization?

I may be religiously enshrined in Islam, but I embrace a moderate lifestyle. Through a watering of the gene pool I speak perfect colonial English and I am tempered into a colonial lifestyle. Holistically the discipline of the past, the vision of the future and the utopic dream of Uhuru, I am grappling with the disrespectful arrogance of present day youth with the mentality of ‘I want it All and I want it Now ‘ as the tradition of ‘I Am Because You Are’ is discarded. I Am too Indian to be African because I clothe myself in my tradition, heritage and culture. We are programmed into catch phrases as the youth sing the anthem of ‘I’m Loving it’ and ‘Amandla’ in one breath with over-indulgence and lack of responsibility. Parents are torn apart as the nucleus disintegrates. Social sickness sets into the milieu.

Socio-economic stressors have changed gender equity into disparity as the female embraces being the business strategist and the single parent in most families. Society has now recreated a new core factor and ideology of families in society with the female being the single parent and breadwinner while embracing roles of both parents. What was once phrased dysfunctional is now the norm. Within such structures we are still sandwiched as in the Indian home the only thing that keeps families in a cohesive pod are the discipline of religious practices, respect and upbringing.

In Muslim families, the element of patriarchy still reigns however, the women have not resigned themselves to being dominated but more sharing within their roles and of each other through the metamorphose of the modern family.

Polygamy is the norm within African communities. Although polygamy is widely practiced in Islam, it redefines itself into sharing of responsibilities with mutual benefits within that relationship and as individuals creating new identities and families within the nucleus of society. As much as the African consider us as Indian invaders, we commercialised the country through the Sugar Industry and indenture and transformed a once baron land into a verdant, vibrant, thriving money spinner and still I am considered as being too Indian to be African.

Am I too Indian to be African? My social exclusion in what was supposed to be a cohesive collaboration left me with a vision of Uhuru. I seek that day when we sleep risk free, when we do not need the steel bars to protect us, nor the gated community policing forums which can now be attributed to Black Imperialism as the black bourgeoisie expunge themselves on Model C schools and decolonize their minds with colonial English and Christian National Education. Most Indians of Indenture or merchant decent want to break free from the shackles only to be enslaved by our minority and our acquiescence to our ever-shrivelling presence and influence let alone our affluence. We may be a thriving nation, but our grooming has fallen on the wayside at a critical time when we are blooming. The mirages of utopia, of the Mandela Dream and vision have evaporated into the realities of just another African country with another African story. But I am still a universal child imbibing the transformation of my identity.

I am South African and proudly so.

Written by FIONA KHAN


Academic, Author, Poet, Environmentalist

Cell: 0817001246


  1. Hi Fiona
    Congratulations! This is really good. I enjoyed and appreciated all that you wrote.
    Waiting for the next edition.


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