Abdul Ebrahim, the only Indian known to be living in the South African province of Orange Free State, has lost his house because he revealed his racial identity.
Indians are not allowed to live in the Orange Free State. It is possibly the only territory in the world with a law prohibiting people of a particular race from residing in it.
So far, Ebrahim has not been forced to leave. But he has had to evade the rules by having himself officially reclassified as a Colored, or person of mixed blood, at the suggestion of South Africa's interior minister.
This has happened at a time when the South African government is doing much talking about extending political rights to the Colored and Indian minorities. Proposals for the change have been drawn up by the government's think tank on reform, the President's Council. The black majority would continue to be denied political rights.
Ebrahim's predicament originates in the Free State's antiquated laws on race. The statute barring Indians from living in the landlocked province dates back to 1854, when the state was a Boer republic inhabited by the hardy pioneers of Dutch descent who had trekked there in their ox-drawn wagons to escape British occupation of South Africa's coastal belt.
The Boers wanted to keep out the Indian indentured laborers who were then being brought to the neighboring colony of Natal to work its sugar plantations. They enacted a law to prohibit entry to all "Arabs, coolies and other Asiatic coloreds."
The law has never been rescinded. To this day, any Indian wanting to travel between the two southern provinces and the Transvaal to the north is allowed 24 hours to cross the centrally situated Orange Free State, a territory the size of Alabama.
A concession introduced in 1972 allows Indians to stay up to 30 days if they are on business, but they may not take up residence.
Ebrahim, a skilled machine operator, moved to the Free State with his family four years ago when doctors recommended the dry climate for his ailing wife's lung condition.
His wife, Yvonne, is classified as a Colored. South Africa prohibits marriages between whites and non-whites but not between different non-white groups.
Because of the prohibition on Indians, Ebrahim pretended to be Colored too. His children, Rookaya, 6, and Anwer, 10, being of mixed blood, are officially Coloreds like their mother. The family lived in the township set aside for Coloreds in the provincial capital of Bloemfontein.
All might have been well had Ebrahim not decided he would like to buy the house he was renting. He filled in the necessary forms, which, like all official forms in South Africa, required him to give his race classification and identity number. He filled in "Indian."
Instead of allowing Ebrahim to buy the house, the township manager, Phillip Langenhoven, ordered him out.
The local Colored community leader, T.C. Solomon, took up the case with the Bloemfontein City Council. That went nowhere, so he visited Interior Minister Chris Heunis in Cape Town. Heunis suggested that Ebrahim apply to be reclassified as a Colored.
This involves getting sworn affidavits from friends and acquaintances saying that a person looks like a Colored rather than an Indian and is accepted as a Colored.
Ebrahim did that. With a little help from Heunis, he succeeded. Armed with the new papers, the ex-Indian went back to Langenhoven last week to apply again to buy his house.
But Langenhoven told him that the house had already been sold to another Colored family and that he would have to go on a four-year waiting list to buy another house.
Now Ebrahim and his family have moved in with relatives in the Colored township. The house is badly overcrowded, and they don't know when or how they will again get a place of their own.