Celebration Of The 150th Anniversary Of The Arrival Of The Indentured Labourers Of Indian Orgin In South Africa
Remarks By Mr Narend Singh MP

 

National Assembly: Tuesday, 16 November 2010 

 

Honourable Speaker:

It is a great honour for me to pay tribute today to the first Indians who arrived in South Africa’s shores exactly 150 years ago, on the 16th of November 1860. Amongst those I honour today is my grandfather, who as a 23 year old, arrived on South Africa’s shores from North India on the 14th of April 1897, when he disembarked from the SS Umzinto.

Ironically, Umzinto is still an area which I reside in today. The contribution of my grandfather and the many other Indian migrants between 1860-1911 is well-documented, but I fear the contribution of the Indian community to our country has not yet been fully assessed and not fully appreciated.

PAST:

Amongst our country’s unsung heroes and heroines are undoubtedly the first pilgrims from India who landed on our shores on board the Truro on November 16, 1860. The Indian migrants came searching for greener pastures, but for many, these were the sugarcane fields of KwaZulu Natal. My grandfather, too, found employment in this industry and as a young man made a living working for a sugarcane company in Port Shepstone.

History records that, from the many trials and tribulations of the Indian migrants emerged as many triumphs and a sense of purpose too. Indian people lived cheek by jowl with their African brothers and sisters until 1966, when the group areas act, which separated all South Africans, took effect. But this did not dampen the fighting spirit of the Indian people. It was the South African Indian community who 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. This led to the establishment of 400 community built schools, mainly in KwaZulu Natal.

INDIA’S ROLE:

The arrival of my Indian brothers and sisters in South Africa also led to a powerful relationship between India and South Africa. Today, we laud the role of India in shaping the political landscape of South Africa. India has left indelible imprints on the human race over the course of centuries and today, India is not only a rising twenty-first-century superpower, but the pace of change in the world's largest democracy, with its vibrant and open society, is simply inspiring. 

History records that we, South Africa and India share a common past. Both of our countries were subjected to occupation by British imperialists, and our hardships and experiences during our Colonial periods bear striking resemblances. I am proud that South Africa and India’s special relationship was forged in the struggle against racial oppression and discrimination.

CHALLENGES:

But despite the commendable relationship between our two countries, the fact remains that 150 years since the arrival of the first Indians to our shores many challenges still remain for South Africa’s Indian community.

The perception that all Indian people are rich businessmen and women is false and has created, in my opinion, the myth that there are no poor Indians in South Africa. This is simply not true. A quick tour around KwaZulu Natal will reveal that some of the poorest inhabitants of KwaZulu Natal are in fact Indians. It is with this in mind that I believe that there is an urgent need for Government and NGOs to do more to assist our Indian communities to access housing and other basic services.

In addition, clearly not enough has been done to preserve and honour the culture, religion and traditions of the Indian community although these rights are entrenched in our Constitution. Currently the State broadcaster the SABC only flights one or two TV programmes per week of interest for the Indian community. I am glad to note that the Minister of Communications is participating in this debate and I trust he would respond to this. There has also been no concerted effort on the part of Government to promote Eastern languages. More schools for example, could offer Eastern languages as part of their Curriculum. The issue of equal job opportunities for young graduates is also a matter of concern.

It is my firm belief, that it is important that we take advantage of this moment in history to ensure the lasting and sustainable legacy of the Indian community. There have been many calls for national monuments to honour the achievements of the Indian community, with Curries Fountain and Durban market seen as two options where such monuments could be considered. A monument similar to that of the Afrikaner Taal Monument or the Afrikaner Voortrekker Monument is an example. It is of concern to note that Durban Documentation Centre which used to house artefacts has shut its doors.

I am also in favour of the creation of a proposed memory bank or culture centre. The well-known author Professor Ashwin Desai suggests that such a centre, which could be called the “1860 Memory and Cultural Centre” would bring together all the collections of photographs and artefacts of the history of South Africans of Indian descent into a central place and be put on display in an accessible and informative fashion. This centre could also host the showing of documentaries and seminars. Such a centre could make a vital contribution to ensuring that the old traditions from the Indian sub-continent, re-born in Africa, are not lost to South Africans today, and for generations to come. It will also be a pivot around recording the long struggle to build Indo-African unity and the remarkable and courageous choices that people made to lay the seeds of non-racialism.

 CONCLUSION: LEGACY

Curry and rice and bunny chows are today one of KwaZulu Natal’s, and indeed South Africa’s, most favourite dishes but the legacy of the Indian community of South Africa is far greater than that of food alone. South Africans from Indian descent have greatly enriched our nation, but especially so the Province of KwaZulu Natal.

Today, 150 years ago, South Africa’s destiny changed. We must take pride in this historical event and be deeply and humbly aware of the chain of actions and consequences which that momentous day set in place.

Today, more than ever before I dream of a homogenous South Africa, in which South Africa’s Indians take up their rightful place and finally become citizens who are proud to be South Africans. Hopefully this dream will still be realised in my lifetime.

Honourable Members you have heard Indians say “nothing for nothing” and that is because nothing does come for nothing.

I stand here to day as a proud South African of Indian origin to pay tribute to the thousands of men and women who toiled under treacherous conditions to make us what we are today. I also take this opportunity on behalf of the Inkatha Freedom Party to wish all Muslims EID MUBARAK.

I end with the words of IFP President, Prince Mangosuthu Buthelezi who has on numerous occasions paid tribute to South Africans of Indian descent and is on record as saying:

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.

I thank you.