Mr Master of Ceremonies, Dr TP Naidoo, President of Indian Academy; all amaKhosi present; our guests of honour, the Honourable RV Deshpande, Minister for Medium and Large Industries of the Republic of India; the Honourable Sri Ajit Kumar, Consul-General of the Republic of India in Durban; Mr Sri Raman, Managing Director, Karnataka Udyog Mitra; Dr Jogi Subramaniam, Chief Scientist and Head of Production, Bangalore; Mr KJ Joy, Music Director and Vice President in South Africa; Mr KN Shanker, Civil Engineer/Builder in Bangalore; Mr K Jayshunker, Trade Facilitator, Karnataka/uThungulu; His Worship the Mayor of uThungulu District Municipality, Cllr BV Mthethwa; His Worship the Mayor of Umhlathuze, Dr DJB Moffat; the Honourable Mr Narend Singh, Minister of Environmental Affairs and Agriculture who represents the Premier of KwaZulu Natal at this function; the Honourable Mr M Mabuyakhulu, the Minister of Economic Development and Tourism; Professor LBG Ndabandaba, the Minister of Education and Culture; Mr SV Naicker, MPP; Mrs FX Gasa, MPP; Dr Rajesh Kumar of the Divine Life Society of South Africa; other Mayors and Councillors present; other distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen.

It gives me great pleasure to be officiating at an occasion of this nature. This celebration of the arrival of the first Indian settlers in South Africa is an occasion of great national importance. When we talk about promoting an African Renaissance we must keep in mind the multi-faceted nature of our population’s make-up. South Africa is a unique place and its renaissance must highlight its diverse composition. We can only celebrate our true self if we provide equal value and recognition to all the many individual and collective sacrifices, acts of heroism and courage, and great endeavours and undertakings which have enabled our country to be built into and become what it presently is. I am not one of those who runs South Africa down. I am proud of South Africa and remain incurably optimistic about its future, in spite of the enormous problems we have. My optimism is not an effort to sweep our problems under the carpet.

I know that we have major problems and that we are far from being what our country ought to be, but remain confident that we have within ourselves the strength, capacity and wisdom to turn South Africa into a much better place for all. It is from this platform of appreciation for all we have in our country and optimism for the future, that I feel an overwhelming sense of respect and compassion for all those who struggled harshly and endured untold sufferings to bring us to where we are. Among such unsung heroes and heroines are undoubtedly the first pilgrims from India who landed on our shores from on board the Truro on November 16, 1860.

We must take pride in this historical event and be deeply and humbly aware of the chain of actions and consequences which it set in place. To a certain extent, November 16, 1860 was as much of a destiny-determining time as was the arrival on the American shores of the first pilgrims aboard the Mayflower. However, while Americans take pride in that historical event and recollect what happened at that time when they teach history to their children and when they practice their culture, I fear that in South Africa we have not given equal recognition to the arrival of the Truro to our shores. Perhaps those who were carried by the Truro might not have had such an impact in shaping the future of South Africa as did the Mayflower’s pilgrims in the making of America, but I firmly feel that their impact on the making of South Africa and their symbolic importance in our national and collective consciousness, ought not to be under-estimated. South Africa would not be what it is today without the contribution of the descendants of those who were delivered by the Truro on our shores.

Simply and plainly put, without the blood, sweat, suffering and toil of the people of the Truro and the many more Indians who followed them, South Africa would not be what it is today and would not enjoy the levels of prosperity, development and stability which we now have, and which, albeit far below our intended goals and aspirations, are nonetheless superior to those enjoyed anywhere else in sub-Saharan Africa. The pilgrims from the Mayflower did not engage on a perilous and uncertain voyage to land on the American shores completely of their own accord. They were pushed out of their homes and countries by religious intolerance. They abandoned prosperous and developed societies to face the unknown in a land where there was no comparable development. However, they believed that with the help of God and their tireless toil and industriousness they could build a better future, if not for themselves, then surely for their posterity, and, indeed, they did.

Similarly, those who engaged in the perilous and uncertain journey across the Indian Ocean, did not leave India completely of their own accord. They committed the greatest sacrifice known to man. Of their own accord, they became slaves, or indentured labourers, so that one day they could become free, and, if not on their horizon, freedom could one day shine on the horizon of their children and grandchildren. May God bless these unsung heroes. I feel that many South Africans do not know enough about who these Indians were, why they embarked on an often life-threatening journey, and of the harshness of the conditions under which they decided to leave India. We do not know enough about the conditions of life with which they were confronted during the many years, many decades and many generations through which they provided their hard work. We can only imagine their suffering. As we imagine their suffering, we can also imagine how in their heart of hearts a call echoed, instilling in them the hope of future freedom. I have no doubt that this echoing call for freedom is what kept them going and gave them the courage to keep enduring the harshness of their lives.

The Indian community of today is the final depository of that call for freedom and final social redemption, which call has been passed down the generations. I respect and salute the Indian communities because I know that the level of prosperity they have achieved in South Africa is the direct result of their industriousness and hard work. It has been built by the hard work of many generations, by what is proven to be one of the most self-reliant people of Africa. South Africa is proud of this legacy. We are proud of living in a country which in its complex make-up can count on such an important lesson and example of self-help and self-reliance. Throughout my life I have taught, preached and advocated self-help and self-reliance as the tool through which not only social upliftment can be achieved, but also through which we can promote the individual and collective human growth of our people. A child becomes a man when he stands on his own feet and is no longer reliant on others, either from a material or a psychological viewpoint.

Adulthood is about being able to provide for oneself, and being aware of who we are and what we need without using other people’s perceptions as our frame of reference or means of self identification. These lessons of self-reliance are now as relevant and crucially necessary in our country as they have ever been before. They mark the path of growth for many of our people.

Examples of these lessons can be found throughout the history of South Africa and, undoubtedly, one of the brightest of them all lies in the extraordinary lives of the about 150,000 Indians who arrived on South African shores between 1860 and 1911. About half of them decided to stay and elected to consider themselves as part and parcel of this land and as true South Africans. This is a great lesson in self-reliance as it proves that even though away from their native soil, these people had sufficient confidence and sense of self to be able to create their own identity as South Africans. In so doing, they did not relinquish their culture or their traditions. If anything, they reached an even greater appreciation of most segments of their cultures and their traditions. However, they found themselves in the fortunate position of being able to choose what portions of their cultures and traditions they would retain, and what they could do without. Much was retained, but many of the elements of the hierarchic, oppressive and class-orientated features of Indian cultures of the second part of the 19th century, were not reproduced in the forging of a new Indian community on the African soil. This was an important element in the renewal and regeneration of a people which preserved its identity while starting anew from the hardest possible point of departure and decided to do so by building right away a better community on better values than the one they had left behind. They implemented freedom and progress amongst themselves as freedom and progress became available to them, and as fast as their emancipation could be achieved.

The fortunes of mankind depend on the quality of people, not on their social status. There is no doubt that from many viewpoints those who left India to come to South African shores were not from the highest level of the Indian social structure. They were not the most educated and, indeed, most of them were illiterate. Truly, most of them were regarded as rejects within the circles of Indian societies and as lesser people. Many of them were also not amongst the healthiest as many suffered from malnutrition and bore the toll of abject social and economic conditions. Not dissimilar were the conditions of those who emigrated from Europe to populate what then became the United States and Australia. The progeny of those whom European aristocracy regarded as rejects, rose to establish a new culture and eventually shape and dominate the world we now live in. To me, that proves beyond doubt what should otherwise be a self-evident axiom, namely that all men are created equal, and are equally endowed by the same loving God with the same measure of God-given natural rights and talents.

The South African Indian community proved these truths beyond any doubt as it invested its originally very scarce resources into the education of their children and the uplifting of their social and economic condition so that each subsequent generation could surpass their fathers’ one, not only in terms of economic prosperity but also in terms of education, knowledge and awareness. Young generations should never forget this process, because it was through this process that the Indian community of South Africa grew and provided a contribution to the South African development in a variety of fields ranging from medicine to agriculture and from retail to learning institutions. The contribution of the Indian community to our country has not yet been fully assessed and not fully appreciated. However, I am less concerned about the past than I am about the future. In piercing the clouds which shield the future from human sight, I have no doubt that without the need for any great clairvoyance, I can see how the Indian community will have an ever-increasing and ever more prominent role to play in the making and growth of the new South Africa. South Africa must rely also on the legacy of stamina, industriousness and optimism which has indeed been bestowed not only on the Indian community but on all of us by the great adventurous journey which once began with the departure of the Truro.

If we look back at the milestones of the journey we can easily see how what has been consumed in South Africa has indeed changed not only our land but the whole world. It was the journey of the Truro which planted the seeds which prompted and enabled Mahatma Gandhi to reside in Phoenix in this Province in our Indian community where he began forming and spreading his message of passive resistance and non-violence. Mahatma Gandhi’s non-violent teachings, which to a great extent were formed amongst the progeny of the pilgrims of the Truro, have changed world consciousness forever, and have set a new standard against which the legitimacy of any exercise of power has since been measured. After Mahatma Gandhi’s entrance on the stage of history, might could no longer assert itself as being right, and it become widely recognized that the rightness of mightiness could only rest not on force but on moral grounds. Since then, the world has known many situations in which peoples with no might have overcome mighty countries because of their having seized and maintained the moral high ground.

I regard myself as a child of Mahatma Gandhi as I myself have followed his teachings throughout my life, weathering the political storms with satyagraha when others chose to take up arms and resort to violence and intimidation as the tools by means of which they sought to promote our liberation struggle. In the end, the call for negotiation, negotiation and more negotiation, which I had promoted since the mid-seventies, finally triumphed, and the world watched in awe as South Africa engaged in a peaceful and negotiated transition from apartheid to democracy. I cannot help but believe that in the complex alchemy which made this miracle possible, a role was played by the ever-present legacy which the people who undertook the voyage of the Truro bestowed on South Africa. The passion for liberation and the endurance to wait for the time when liberation could arrive, are indeed features of the individual and collective stories of the many indentured Indians who came to South Africa.

Many of such stories are microcosms which reflect and represent a collective tragedy underpinned by a quest for liberation. For instance, I can mention the struggle of Mr ML Sultan who, with many other people, signed that dreadful indenture contract by virtue of which he agreed to surrender his freedom, become a slave and to work as a slave in South Africa. As an indentured labourer, he left India and undertook a sea journey which almost killed him before he arrived in Natal. He begun working for ten shillings a month, but there are records which show that even at that time he nourished in his heart a vision which would prove greater than the oppression of his circumstances. His willpower sustained him. Through hard work and industriousness, coupled with sheer undaunted determination, Mr Sultan saved enough money to pay for his ransom and free himself from the enslavement of poor social and economic conditions. He proceeded to build considerable wealth. He obviously understood that he was not an isolated person, but was part of a collective tragedy, which made it such that his redemption could not be achieved unless it was productive of at least the seeds of the future liberation of the whole.

For this reason, Mr Sultan bequeathed almost his entire wealth to the Sastri College, so that the technical branch which now carries his name could be developed. By bequeathing the gift of education, he bequeathed the gift of redemption and liberation, for he understood that only through study and education could future generations of Indians achieve better social and economic conditions than their forefathers. This lesson is as valid now as it was then, and applies to all our people. Indeed because of Mr Sultan’s generosity Africans, Coloureds, Indians and all people who were not regarded as Whites, could access technical education and share in the dream of freedom and liberation. I myself had the opportunity and privilege of studying at the Sastri College after I was expelled from Fort Hare University because of my political militancy in the ANC Youth League. I did not study at the technical branch, but I benefitted enormously from being part and parcel of the Indian community as a student at the non-white section of the University of Natal which gathered at that college, where I formed life-long friendships and partnerships with many comrades in our liberation struggle such as Ismail and Fatima Meer.

Since then I have felt like and have remained a member of the Indian community, as my friends over the years in the Indian community are legion. Some were students with me at the University of Fort Hare. For more than 30 years I have been a customer at a shop in Johannesburg owned by Indians, from which I get my clothing. The indian community has made tremendous sacrifices to uplift my people. In this Province in particular I can mention hundreds of projects, most of these being schools and clinics, which the Indian community through organisations such as the Divine Life Society of South Africa, have built for many of our African communities. We are greatly indebted to them for many other things, including exemplary acts of compassion, which are praiseworthy for the human race.

Throughout my life, and almost half a century of leadership in politics, I have been committed to fostering dialogue and partnership amongst the different cultures, races, language groups and ethnicities of the many whom we call South Africans. I have pursued reconciliation and unity at all costs. I have admiration and respect for the history, tragedies and aspirations of all the ethnic groups which comprise our country. We have all suffered at one juncture or the other. Before they had it easy, the Afrikaners also had it very hard, and many of them also came to this land fleeing religious persecution and intolerance. They also struggled to remain a community and to build prosperity. They also broke their ties with their original culture and asserted themselves as a self-reliant people and as true South Africans, so much so that they called themselves the Africans. I would like to welcome the presence of the distinguished visitors from the Republic of India who are here today. We welcome the presence of the Honourable RV Deshpande, the Minister for Medium and Large Industries in India, and his delegation from India. Their presence, as well as the presence of the Honourable Consul-General of the Republic of India in Durban, Sri Ajit Kumar, has added a very special lustre to this occasion.

We must now all come together recognising that we are all the product of the tragedies of the past. We must ensure that the empathy which streams out of our shared or divided past, brings us together in the recognition that we are now one nation, which must now share with equal pride what brought us to where we are, and that which made us who we are. In becoming what I am, I have often thought about the men and women who disembarked the Truro to step into the African unknown. I am sure that on this occasion they are looking upon us with a sense of satisfaction, taking pride in seeing how the seeds of their sacrifices have generated the opportunities we now have. Let us not dare miss out on these opportunities. Let us not disappoint those whose sacrifices made those opportunities possible. South Africa is faced with great opportunities which we can now seize and benefit from, if we accept to work together as a nation, irrespective of the divisions which characterised our past.

We can succeed in fulfilling our country’s destiny if each of us finally accepts responsibility for all of us. No one can live in isolation any longer. The plight and poverty of one is the demise of all. We must build a society which is finally liberated from the enslavement of poverty and ignorance for lack of education, and a society which is fair, just and equitable for all. We must build a society which is equally just to all South Africans. We must eradicate poverty and abject social and economic conditions. Only by doing so will we fulfil the dreams of those who embarked on the journey of the Truro. I believe that on this occasion the best way of commemorating that fateful journey is undoubtedly that of re-affirming our shared commitment to continuing the arduous journey towards emancipation and liberation which was begun on November 16, 1860. The road of this journey remains long and uphill, but I trust that our present generations shall endure it with as much courage, faith, vision and determination as the many unsung heroes or heroines of the Truro.