Celebrating 150 Years - A Tribute to Indian Indentured Labourers
Remarks By Prince Mangosuthu Buthelezi MP
President Of The Inkatha Freedom Party

   

 

Belvedere Drive Park, Tongaat: 27 November 2010

 

On 16 November 1860, the Truro docked at the Port of Natal, bringing the first Indian indentured labourers to South African soil. In the 150 years since that day, South Africa has been enriched by the remarkable contribution of a remarkable people.

 

I was delighted to receive an invitation jointly from the Honourable Minister of Communications, Mr Radhakrishna Padayachie, and Mr Ishwar Ramlutchman, to participate in this celebration of the 150th anniversary of Indian settlement in our country. I wish to commend Minister Padayachie on his visionary leadership that has birthed the Pioneer Peace Park which we establish today. Creating spaces in which we may remember our shared history is a valuable step towards building national unity.

 

I wish also to thank Mr Ramlutchman for his perseverance and tireless efforts to erect eight Sivananda Peace Pillars on heritage sites across our country. I had the privilege of witnessing the first pillar being unveiled in Empangeni, almost a year ago. Then, last month, I spoke at the unveiling of the second pillar in Phoenix. I have caught the spirit of enthusiasm that motivated Mr Ramlutchman to undertake this project and I hope to witness all eight pillars standing as a testimony to the human aspiration to unity, harmony and goodwill.

 

I have had many opportunities during this year's celebrations to express my support for the Indian community, beginning with the 10th International Convention of the Global Organisation of People of Indian Origin which took place at Durban City Hall in March. Our theme for that Convention was "Turning Historical Adversity into Advantage" and as I spoke before plenary, I noted that the 1860 arrival of Indian indentured labourers is now a part of our collective history; part of all that shaped the democratic and liberated South Africa we enjoy today.

 

When the Truro docked, the Zulu Kingdom was still an intact sovereign State, and it would be another twenty years before its conquest by the British forces in Ulundi on the 4th of July 1879. Thus the history of the Zulu nation and that of the Indian people on this soil are intertwined in a shared South African history, built on a shared struggle for freedom, recognition and equal rights. It is a history shared by every South African; and indeed by every human being across the world who has hoped for liberty, championed dignity and dreamed of a future in which we all are global citizens with equal value and equal access to opportunity.

 

I regret that that dream is far from accomplished in our world today. 

Even now in South Africa people struggle under the burden of poverty, racism, sexism and discrimination. Although we are leagues ahead of where we were 150, 100 or even 50 years ago, there are still embedded patterns of thought within our society that manifest in the abuse of women and children and the prevalence of criminality. It is thus serendipitous that our celebration today takes place during South Africa's 16 days of activism against abuse and violence towards women and children.

 

I believe that the Sivananda Peace Pillars are a reminder to us of the ideals towards which we strive. These are the very ideals of the pioneers in our society, who sacrificed and struggled to achieve a non-racial, non-sexist and democratic South Africa. I am privileged, at my age, to have known many of these pioneers and to have called them my friends. Among them I count Monty Naicker and Yusuf Dadoo, whose rallies in Nichols Square I attended as a student, and also the late Yellan Chinsamy, and Ismail and Fatima Meer.

 

During the years when apartheid banned blacks from staying in hotels, my wife and I often stayed at the home of the late Dr Mohamed Mayat and his lovely wife, Zuleikha, as well as at the home of Pat and Sakunthalay Poovalingham. Among my good friends are Logan Reddy, Steve Moodley and Prim Iyer.

 

Many have done so much for the upliftment of black people in this Province, such as Mr Ramlutchman, Mr Vivian Reddy and Mr Rajan Reddy, as have organisations like the Divine Life Society, the Indian Education Committee and the Lockat Family Trust. I feel intensely the absence amongst us of my friend and mentor, Swamiji Sahajananda of the Divine Life Society, after such a long relationship spanning several decades. I must also mention the Laganparsad family, Nessa and Anita Branpakash, and Mr SV Naicker. The IFP has been blessed with great minds, like Narend Singh, Ibrahim Bawa and Dr Usha Roopnarain.

 

If we were to name all the giants of our past and the heroes of our present within the Indian community, our time today would be entirely taken up. There are too many to mention. The contribution of Indians cannot be limited to our long liberation struggle, or to the social transformation of our nation, for it extends into every field of human endeavour. Indians in South Africa have benefitted the diverse fields of medicine, law, politics, religion, music, art, education, business and industry.

 

Ours is a nation of pioneers. I must mention that, this year, we also commemorate the awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize to Inkosi Albert Mvumbi Luthuli, the first African recipient of this prestigious award. 

Indeed, this evening I shall attend the launch of a book which details his life, for I was close to Inkosi Luthuli for many years and considered him my mentor. Our friendship was cemented during my time at the University of Natal, where I attended classes with the late Professor Fatima Meer. She was born in the heart of politics, in Grey Street in Durban where political education classes were held at Lakhani Chambers in the fifties and sixties.

 

 From a young age I was steeped in politics and I became politically active in the ANC Youth League by the age of 19, so much so that I was rusticated from the University of Fort Hare for participating in a boycott. But my political ideologies were forged in the same mould as those of Inkosi Luthuli, who followed the teachings of passive resistance and non-violence, which were taught by the Mahatma Gandhi. 

The Mahatma was assassinated the very year I entered Fort Hare University.

 

Throughout my life I have embraced the philosophy of Satyagraha, or truth force, which he brought to South Africa and by which he led the campaign against discriminatory legislation in South Africa from 1893 to 1913. The history of South Africa was changed by Gandhi's presence on our soil and the founders of the ANC were influenced by his ideas. 

But South Africa also set the course for the life's work of Mohandas Gandhi, who took back to India the seeds of a campaign of civil disobedience which he launched as the President of the Indian National Congress. Thus the history of South Africa and the history of India intertwined once again.

 

We know that, today, South Africa hosts the largest Indian Diaspora in the world. Yet it is somehow strange to think of South Africa as a host, when the roots of the Indian community in our soil go back three and four generations. I know that there is no lack of patriotism among the Indian community. Indeed, love of country is not the exclusive domain of natives which we all are, but of everyone who has chosen to give their blood, sweat and toil to making South Africa great. And, in more than half a century in politics and public life, I have witnessed first hand the remarkable dedication of Indian men and women to the success of our country.

 

I served for many years as the Chief Minister of the erstwhile KwaZulu Government and benefitted from the commitment of my Indian colleagues to serving our people and uplifting their sense of dignity, when the apartheid regime was intent on crushing our spirit. I led the KwaZulu Legislative Assembly to establish the Buthelezi Commission, on which several Indian Commissioners served, such as Mr AM Moola of the South African Indian Council, Mr HJ Hendrickse of the Labour Party, Mr YS Chinsamy of the Reform Party and Mr Armichand Rajbansi of the Minority Party.

 

Building on the Buthelezi Commission, we established the KwaZulu/Natal Indaba in 1986, to initiate provincial constitutional talks. The Indaba brought together the KwaZulu Government, the Natal provincial Government, political parties, commercial and industrial leaders, religious and cultural organisations and rate payers associations. Out of this exercise, we birthed South Africa's first non-racial, non-discriminatory government, the KwaZulu-Natal Joint Executive Authority, giving the example of how governance by all, for all could be achieved.

 

Through these initial steps in our struggle for democracy, and throughout my time as Minister of Home Affairs in the Government of National Unity, I cherished my friendships with Indian colleagues, comrades and advisers. When the IFP was at the helm of the provincial government in this Province, we worked well together and achieved a great deal for the people we serve. Even now, as the official opposition, and from our seats in the national Parliament, the IFP benefits from having a shared vision that blacks, Indians, coloureds, whites and everyone of goodwill can embrace and work towards.

 

We have walked a long road together as one community. The Indian people suffered the same tribulations we endured as black South Africans, by and large to the same degree. Of course, the hierarchy of indignities was entrenched in the apartheid system, so that Nelson Mandela received African type of food on Robben Island, while Indian and coloured inmates received slightly better food, and whites enjoyed a proper meal.

 

But these degrees of discrimination were also intended to compound our oppression. So I suppose it was little solace to our Indian and coloured brothers that they were allowed to drink liquor! The efforts to drive a wedge between us often failed significantly, for Indians have done a great deal for blacks. In particular, Indians have provided many jobs, and this is appreciated by all of us.

 

As we pay tribute to the Indian indentured labourers who settled in South Africa 150 years ago, let us also celebrate the vision of a just, prosperous and stable society. For this is the vision that inspired our forebears and the very vision which inspires us to continue their work. I wish to thank the Honourable Minister for recognizing that this vision is shared. I also take this opportunity to publically offer my support and best wishes on his new appointment, as I have already done in private. After so many decades, not a single Indian is not an indigene of this country.

 

May the Pioneer Peace Park and the Sivananda Peace Pillar remind us, and future generations, that the cause of freedom is worthy of our greatest efforts.

 

I thank you.

 

Contact:
Liezl van der Merwe
Press Secretary to Prince Mangosuthu Buthelezi MP
082 729 2510