“The day Indian minorities say they don’t need the Minority Front (MF) to protect their rights and that they’re comfortable in the new democracy then you know that we’ve done our job,” MF leader Shameen Thakur Rajbansi said.
As long as people continue to vote for the MF, it means the party is relevant, and people are still evolving and maturing in the democracy, Rajbansi said in an interview with The Daily Vox. The party fights for equal opportunities for minorities in the country.
The late Amichand Rajbansi started the MF in 1994 at the advent of a democratic South Africa. Rajbansi was active in the African National Congress (ANC) Youth League since the age of 12. He first took interest in the issues affecting Indian people when the apartheid government forcibly removed Indians living in Clarewood using the Group Areas Act.
From there Amichand Rajbansi joined the tricameral parliament as the Chairman of the House of Delegates (tricameral chamber for Indian people) and became the Minister for Indian Affairs
In spite of an offer to join the ANC from Nelson Mandela in 1994, Amichand Rajbansi declined saying his experience in the tricameral parliament showed him, “ethnicity and diversity is going to be the key role player in the new democracy.” He started the MF instead.
When Amichand Rajbansi passed away in 2011, his widow Shameen Thakur Rajbansi took the helm. It wasn’t an easy ride, the battle for leadership of the party was contested in court. As a result, support for the party dropped in the last two elections.
About the hard-won battle for leadership, Rajbansi said: “When there’s change in management in a party and a slight vacuum in leadership, new leaders emerge in the party. There’s always a battle and people move in different directions, and then those that remain on course with what the party stands for will remain.”
Aims for the upcoming election
The party, based in KwaZulu Natal (KZN) with a large supporters base there, is looking to regain its seats in parliament in the upcoming election. “We always had two seats in the national and two seats in the provincial [government]. With the demise of Mr Rajbansi, we dropped to one seat: the seat that I hold in the provincial legislature in KZN,” she said.
The party dropped from 0.25% of the vote and 43,474 votes in 2009 to 0.12% and 22 589 votes in 2014.
Now the party is ready to move forward and start anew.
Since the 2014 general election, the MF had two major demands from the government: for government to create a separate ministry and a separate minorities commission for the minorities in this country.
“We want our affairs controlled as minorities just like it is done by other progressive democracies around the world. We are being affected by so much discriminatory legislation as minorities, especially our youth,” Rajbansi said.
“Someone has to listen to the needs and wants of the youth,” Rajbansi said, and that someone is the MF.
Youth and mentorship
“My focus for the next 10 years will be on the young people,” Rajbansi said. Her mission extends to grooming young leaders to go into politics or the non-governmental sector, she said.
While the MF is a predominantly Indian party, Rajbansi said she connects with black youth too. “I also look after a lot of black youth who feel they are discriminated against or come to live in ‘former Indian’ areas,” she said.
As a human values-based and principle-based party, the MF teaches people how to protect and build, Rajbansi said. That is a value she wants to extend to the youth.
Political leadership should spend more time with the youth, rather than just “dishing out policy”, Rajbansi said. “The youth have some fascinating ideas, we’re losing out on creativity and innovation,” she said.
Instead, she said, political leaders mislead the youth. “They train the youth to be politically rebellious so that it blinds the youth to the other potential they have,” Rajbansi said.
For the MF, educating the youth is top priority. Rajbansi said she was the first MP to introduce the Early Childhood Development debate to parliament in 1999. Since then, it has evolved into a primary concern for government. In his State of the Nation Address, President Cyril Ramaphosa announced that two years of pre-school would be mandatory for all children.
On the free education debate, Rajbansi said the MF supports it but wants clear policies in place.
“Freedom is not free, it is actually very costly. You can make education an inalienable right if you have a plan on how to funnel the budget to fund it,” she said.
For the MF, all policies should be clear and detailed including the land policies.
“Land expropriation is fine, you can’t have landless people. But you can’t just expropriate when someone has a title deed,” Rajbansi said. The MF holds that government should legislate around the amount of money they will pay for that land. “Land expropriation must be done with a policy and a plan,” Rajbansi said.
The ANC should redistribute government-owned land, the MF holds. “Government has vast lots of land. I don’t understand why they can’t cut up the plots and give it to people who need to build homes,” she said. “Traditional leaders also have so much land, but it’s in a trust. How are you going to deal with that?” she added.
Women, gender-based violence, and the LGBT community
“Gender-based violence (GBV) is about mindset,” Rajbansi said. The MF position on GBV is to change the behaviours of the community: to empower women and praise men. In her public speaking at events, Rajbansi tells parents, especially mothers, to teach their boys and girls that they can do the same things, and that their sons should respect and be protective over women. Women, she said, must support each other.
“But it is very difficult to legislate that,” Rajbansi said. “We can’t legislate into someone’s home or bedroom because it becomes too intrusive. We can’t legislate so that we become a moral policing state,” she added.
The MF is also concerned about political leaders who abuse women, and are looking for ways to legislate around that. Rajbansi said men in politics are particularly abusive. “Men get very violent when we compete with them, both emotionally and physically,” she said. “You will have women not entering politics because they are afraid,” Rajbansi added.
A firm supporter of the LGBTQ community, Rajbansi is advocating for government to have special departments to look after the community too.
Rajbansi said the leadership within the MF sets the party apart from others. “If you do that research, you’ll find that the MF has strong and hardworking leaders dedicated to community development. You won’t find rabble-rousers in the MF, we put our money where our mouth is,” Rajbansi said.