In the latest twist to the lurid murder case of South African Paralympian track star athlete Oscar Pistorius, police have replaced the lead detective probing the killing.
Pistorius, now out on bail, is charged with murdering his girlfriend, model Reeva Steenkamp.
The former detective assigned to the case, Detective Warrant Officer Hilton Botha, was removed from the investigation after it emerged that he is facing seven murder charges in connection with the shooting of a minibus in 2011.
“The poor quality of evidence presented by chief investigating officer Botha exposed the disastrous shortcomings in the state’s case,” Oscar Pistorius’s lawyer, Barry Roux, said in a statement.
Replacing Botha is Lieutenant-General Vineshkumar Moonoo, whom national police commissioner Mangwashi Phiyega described as South African police's "top detective."
According to South African media, Moonoo has more than 30 years' experience and currently serves as the Divisional Commissioner of the Detective Service. He is married with two children and joined the South African Police Service in Durban in 1981. Moonoo is also a board member of the National Council for Correctional Services and has served on the board of the Central Drug Authority.
More importantly, Moonoo is a member of South Africa's small, but vibrant, Indian community, which makes up about 2.5 percent of the nation’s 52 million population. Whites and “coloreds” (mixed-race people) each account for 9 percent, with the remaining 80 percent represented by the black African majority.
South Africa’s Indian population is concentrated in Durban, the largest city in the Kwa-Zulu Natal province, on the Indian Ocean coast. There also exist significant Indian clusters in Pietermaritzburg, Johannesburg and Cape Town.
As in other southern African nations, Indians were principally imported to South Africa by the British in the 19th century as indentured laborers to work on sugar plantations in Natal province or as "free" traders. A number were also recruited to labor as coal miners and railway construction workers.
A smaller group of Indians came to South Africa as slaves (brought by the Dutch) as early as the 17th century, making them one of the longest-established foreign communities in the country. (After the fall of apartheid in the early 1990s, more immigrants from India and other parts of South Asia migrated to South Africa.)
Primarily Hindu, the Indian community also boasts smaller segments of Muslims, Christians and Sikhs.
During the apartheid period (and from long before), Indians occupied a unique position in South African society – suffering harsh discriminatory restrictions imposed by the white-minority government in terms of work, residence and access to social services, Indians nonetheless enjoyed greater freedoms than black Africans.
Still, Indians were heavily involved in fighting discrimination and later the anti-apartheid movement. As long ago as 1894, Mohandas K. Gandhi, the British-trained lawyer who would later gain global fame as the hero of Indian independence, formed the Natal Indian Congress (NIC), an early political organization dedicated to fight against discriminatory laws.
After decades of struggle and perseverance, Indians in the country gradually gained some semblance of civil rights, leading to the formation of the South African Indian Council in 1968 and the participation of Indians and Coloreds in parliament in 1983. Of course, many Indians rejected the white government’s carrot and sticks approach and firmly supported the African National Congress, which sought to topple the apartheid regime and establish a true democracy.
In post-apartheid South Africa, however, Indians remain somewhat estranged from the dominant black population.
In 1994, ahead of democratic elections, an Indian woman named Neele Rajoo explained to the New York Times why she would be supporting the National Party, the party that established and enforced apartheid.
"I've lived and worked with blacks all my life, and I've always supported their struggle and supported the African National Congress," she said. "But now we're scared. When we look at the blacks, whether it is the A.N.C. or Inkatha [Freedom Party], all we see is violence and fighting."
Mahmoud Rajab, a parliamentary candidate for the liberal Democratic Party, told the paper: "[Indian] people are supporting the National Party because they fear black domination,”
Indians’ fears of blacks might be traced to the Durban riots of January 1949 in which Africans attacked Indians, looted their homes, committed rape, robbery and murder in retaliation for Indians’ alleged dishonest business practices and racial prejudice against blacks.
Such fears still exist in South Africa to some degree. As recently as 2002, a controversy erupted over the release of a song by a popular black musician which alleged Indians were “oppressors” and “worse than the whites.”
Mbongeni Ngema's "Amandiya" (which means "Indians" in the Zulu language) caused such outrage among South Africa’s Indian community that it led to a Durban scriptwriter winning an interim interdict against the distribution or sale of the record.
Ramesh Dharamshee Jethalal said in papers filed with the court that the song was "rabidly racist and anti-Indian” and could spark "race riots and wanton bloodshed,” referring to the 1949 disturbances.
The song’s lyrics included the following verses: "We struggle so much here in Durban, as we, have been dispossessed by Indians who in turn are suppressing our people,” and "Indians don't want to change. Even [Nelson] Mandela has failed to convince them. It was better with whites. We knew then it was a racial conflict".
More to the point, Jethalal declared that Ngema "breached the South African constitution by promoting hate speech.”
The country’s media watchdog, the Broadcasting Complaints Commission (BCC), ruled that the lyrics were "inflammatory" and that they "promoted hate in sweeping, emotive language against Indians as a race.”
As such, the BCC prohibited radio and television broadcasters from playing the song for “entertainment purposes,” but did not order an outright ban.
Ngema – a playwright and composer who gained fame with works such as ‘Woza Albert’ and ‘Sarafina’ -- himself defended the lyric and accused the BCC of “declaring war” on Africans.
For the record, Mandela condemned Ngema’s song, citing the participation of many Indians in the struggle against apartheid.
Now, in 2013, ahead of elections in South Africa, Indians have become a relatively affluent segment of the country, carving out their own place in society.
Nikita Ramkissoon, an Indian South African journalist, wrote an opinion piece for TimesLive in which she explored the unusual legacy of Indian migration to Southern Africa.
“We are not Indian,” she declared. “Our race may be stated as ‘Indian’ on official documents, but we are South African. Most of our families have been in this country for up to seven generations. Most of us have not even been to India … I am as South African as wors [a popular South African snack].”
She added: “Not all of us are lawyers, doctors, engineers or accountants. I get surprised looks from people when I say I’m a journalist. One person even asked whether I am breaking religious laws by being in such a profession. … We speak English. [The] majority lost grasp of our Indian languages about three generations ago. … We probably speak better English than the Queen [Elizabeth].”
Finally, she defiantly concluded: “We’re not all going back to India some day. We’re here to stay. Get used to it.”
Indeed, Lieutenant-General Vineshkumar Moonoo is a part of this grand and unique legacy.
Palash has worked as a business journalist for 21 years in New York.