Blacks and Indians Clash over Divisive Zulu Song ; Lyrics Accusing Indians of Racism Test the Limits of Free Speech in New South Africa

Article excerpt

The Oriental restaurant in Durban's Marketplace mall offers a scene that epitomizes Nelson Mandela's "Rainbow Nation" vision. Indians, whites, and blacks sit side by side at tables while they dig into plates heaped with spicy curries and grilled prawns.

But that vision is under some audible duress now. A new anti- Indian song is stirring up racial and ethnic tensions here among groups that eight years ago were unified in the fight against apartheid. And the source of the controversy is also surprising.

Mbongeni Ngema is a noted antiapartheid songwriter and playwright who has long championed a multiracial society. But one cut on his latest album seems at odds with his past.

"AmaNdiya," which is written in Zulu, the language of the African people who live in Natal, says: "Oh brothers, Oh my fellow brothers. We need strong and brave men to confront Indians. This situation is very difficult, Indians do not want to change, whites were far better than Indians. Even Mandela has failed to convince them to change."

Mr. Ngema, who did not return repeated calls for this story, has told the South African press that the song was intended to incite dialogue about Indian-black racial tensions, not to stir hatred against Indians.

Whatever his intentions, the song has been widely condemned by everyone from Nelson Mandela to the New National Party, the remnant of the party that built apartheid. Last month, South Africa's Broadcasting Complaints Commission banned the song from the radio on the grounds that it constituted hate speech. A lawsuit, brought by a South African of Indian descent, which temporarily stopped the album from being marketed and sold, has been found groundless by a Durban judge.

Despite the official condemnations, however, the song has struck a chord among many South African blacks - particularly here in Durban, where Ngema lives and Indians make up 27 percent of the urban population. Nationally, Indians are just 2.5 percent of the population. Ngema's album has been selling rapidly since its release in March, and bootleg copies have been making the rounds in local townships.

"They [Indians] treat you like an animal," says Sfiso Ngcobo, an off-duty policeman outside the Marketplace mall. He says the song reflects the way most Africans view Indians. "Sometimes you try to help an Indian person and they just think you're going to do something to them. …