Arrival of Indians in SA celebrated

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Durban - The year 2010 is an exceptionally significant one in South Africa. It was the first time that Africa hosted a FIFA World Cup and the second milestone celebrated throughout the year is the 150 year anniversary of the arrival of indentured Indians in the country. Kemantha Govender takes a look at the importance of the event.

From 1860 onwards, indentured Indians came from Indian states, now known as Tamil Nadu, and Andhra Pradesh. They also came from eastern Uttar Pradesh and Bihar.

In KwaZulu-Natal, the Indian labourers worked mainly on sugar cane plantations and went on to build communities in different parts of the province.

After the 1880s, "passenger Indians" mainly from Gujarat came to South Africa. They paid their own fares and were predominantly a community of traders.

According to KwaZulu-Natal MEC for Human Settlements and Public Works Maggie Govender, "they (the indentured Indians) bore the brunt of abject social and economic conditions, suffered from malnutrition and were perhaps not amongst the healthiest of physical specimens".

But, Govender added that they brought a rich cultural heritage which has been sustained throughout South Africa's torrid history.

The role that Indians played in all areas of South Africa's history never goes unnoticed. Their spirit for survival and growth has been something that most formidable leaders in South Africa - including Nelson Mandela and Oliver Tambo - have appreciated.

MEC for Agriculture, Environmental Affairs and Rural Development Lydia Johnson told BuaNews that government appreciated the role the Indian community played in South Africa's development.

"We appreciate the role the Indians played especially in agriculture. We have always felt they are a part of us. They have developed opportunities for this province around agricultural activities. Their expertise, hard work and dedication are things we can take away from this celebration," explained Johnson.

The significance of the event could be seen in the numerous activities held across communities in KwaZulu-Natal.

A group of prominent community leaders decided that an organisation needed to be formed in order to coordinate the events.

Chairperson of the KZN Legacy Committee and an executive member of the 1860 Commemoration Council, Satish Dhupelia, explained the benefit of the decision.

"The role of the KZN Committee was to help co-ordinate existing organisations' activities and to help pool resources and share ideas regarding the commemoration of this important South African event. There have been awards evenings, lecture tours, exhibitions, sporting events, school functions, debates, historical talks, book launches and more," said Dhupelia.

The KZN Committee met regularly, exchanged ideas and found that organisations with different backgrounds worked together in a spirit of unity and co-operation.

The anniversary, although a major celebration, also highlighted the issues that people still battle with today.

"We also recognised that there are many within the country of all race groups that are living in poverty. Apart from the various feeding schemes our affiliates have launched, the KZN Committee has had a hamper drive that we started in partnership with Checkers and the Post," he explained.

Government has acknowledged the 150 year anniversary constantly this year, with President Jacob Zuma and other key officials making references to it at different events.

In June this year, Zuma during his state visit to India said: "In those 150 years, we have seen Indians who were brought to the country as slaves in the sugar plantations toil their way out of the dehumanizing and demeaning garments of slavery, to excellence in different fields. These have impacted positively in South Africa's development programmes".

But Dhupelia noted that it is not just government who has embraced the event.

"I think all Indians and also other race groups have grasped the importance of this event. Other race groups have come out in support of the events and have participated in planning and hosting such events," said Dhupelia.

He added that many functions were organised by the youth, civic organisations and senior citizens, and this indicated that there has been wide recognition of the importance of this event by all age groups.

The Indian community played a crucial role in attaining democracy and names such as Mahatma Ghandi, Monty Naicker, Jay Naidoo, Yusuf Dadoo, Ahmed Kathrada, Billy Nair and many more always crop up.

Ghandi's legacy of non violence is one that is still revered and encouraged in South Africa.
Dhupelia said the fact that the country boasts four Nobel peace prize winners in, Chief Albert Luthuli, Nelson Mandela, FW de Klerk and Desmond Tutu, is proof that the legacy of peace and non violence has influenced South Africa.

While all the Indian stalwarts have been honoured for their contribution to South Africa's freedom, Dhupelia says it is important to also pay tribute to those who endured slave-like conditions to persevere and stay in the country.

"Their courage and their triumph over the trials and tribulations are to be admired and respected.

"The Indian community have also been praised for their social welfare programmes that are extended to all people. "There are many of the Indian organisations that have programmes that help alleviate poor social conditions, provide free medical care, feeding schemes, building schools and provision of homes," added Dhupelia.

He said organisations such as the Islamic Medical Association, Divine Life, Sai Movement and various churches are an inspiration to all for their social upliftment programmes.

Zuma in his address in India added that "when we cite names of prominent Indian South Africans, the tendency is to focus only on those who are politically inclined. This long, hazardous yet worthy journey has unleashed many heroes and heroines who have left an indelible mark in the collective memory of the nation".

And as the 150th anniversary is observed, government also wants to celebrate the achievements and contribution of Indians in the fields of sports, commerce, legal matters and social cohesion.

A view that Govender shares: "With the development of the SA economy, the Indian community has found new opportunities for its own growth and contribution to the development of our country in various sectors including medicine, agriculture, commerce, education, law, politics, government, the creative arts and engineering."

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