By Surendra Thankur
I received an invite from the sedate Ela Gandhi to the Phoenix Settlement Trust Centre in Inanda Durban. Prime Minister Narendra Modi was slated to attend on 9 July, the location where Gandhi launched his paper the “Indian Opinion”. I proudly related this to my wife, Rookmoney and son Sachin. “What will you tell PM Modi” asked Sachin? I being of the “children must be seen not heard” variety glared at him. “I don’t know” I replied. “But you will be there and chances are that he may greet you and ask what you have done for South Africa and what South Africa did for you. Sensing a budding John F Kennedy, I did what my elders do to me – I ignored him while I fervently thought of an answer.
The day arrived and Prime Minister Modi had an impossible diary delaying his arrival considerably for the Phoenix Settlement event. I, on the other hand, had a class so I had to leave and doubled back to the University. I now knew however that a question was not going to be asked of me by Modi. That brat of mine however was not is not going to relent.
Sachin, this is what I would have told Modi: We all talk and tease about the “trade” between India and South Africa about how India gave use us little Gandhi and we returned the Mahatma. But how about beneficiation? Did India just off load the poor? The indentured labourer who was considered illiterate in the Western sense arrived in South Africa 1860. They were poor but blessed with this divine gene called education. So it was that this gene which our Indian forefathers brought crossed generation after generation mutating and growing increasingly dominant. Each generation in response saw a marked improvement to the education level of the previous generation. Oral family history informs me that the first generation largely did not attend school, the second generation attended mostly junior school, with the third barely making high school, the fourth however produced degree graduates, and now the fifth generation is prolifically producing PhDs and professional articled clerks, lawyers, medical doctors and so on.
The Indian comprise just 2.5% (1.3m out of the total 51m) in South Africa at the last census. This is an insignificant number. Significantly the performance of this tiny percentage at school leaving exam or university entrance exam level has been astounding with an estimated 70% of the top 100 learners in the KwaZulu-Natal province exams being PIOs. I suggest my surmises about the gene must be correct because it is difficult to explain this through any other scientific method.
I know what India did for me. This is precisely who I am. A learner. And I know what I do for South Africa. I am a teacher who learns. Like Pokémon we PIO wish that this gene and the habit it induces to go viral.