13 January 2013

Arrivals of Indians in South Africa…


Indian Themes on foreign Stamps

                                                                   - Kenneth Sequeira


Indian South Africans are people of Indian descent living in South Africa and mostly live in and around the city of Durban, making it 'the largest 'Indian' city outside India'. Most Indians in South Africa are descendents of migrants from colonial India  during late 19th-century through early 20th-century. 

During apartheid from 1948 to 1994, Indians were called, and often voluntarily accepted, terms that ranged from "Black" to "Asians" to "Indians."


Dutch slavery in the Cape

A significant proportion of slaves imported into the Cape were from India, however these slaves quickly integrated with the rest of the Cape population. White Afrikaners also may have some Indian slave ancestry, an example of this being former President Klerk, who revealed in his autobiography that one of his ancestors was a female Indian slave.

An early Indian to settle in South Africa was Kalaga Prabhu, a Brahmin merchant from Cochin. He was the foremost merchants in Cochin. As punishment for conspiring with the Mysore king Hyder Ali to overthrow the king of Cochin, Kalaga Prabhu and his son Chorda Prabhu were arrested by the Dutch and exiled with their families for life to the Cape of Good Hope in 1771


Indentured laborers and passenger Indians

The modern South African Indian community is largely descended from Indians who arrived in South Africa from 1860 onwards. The first 342 of these came on board the Truro from Madras,followed by the Belvedere from Calcutta.They were transported as indentured labourers to work on the sugarcane plantations of Natal Colony, and, in total, approximately 150 000 Indians arrived as indentured labourers over a period of 5 decades, later also as indentured coal miners and railway construction workers.The indentured labourers tended to speak Tamil, Telugu and Hindi and the majority were Hindu with Christians and Muslims among them. Indians were imported as it was found by colonial authorities that local black Africans were economically self-sufficient, and thus unwilling to subject themselves to employment by colonial farmers, while other colonial authorities believed that the "hunting and warrior" African culture of the time was incompatible with a sudden shift to employed labour.

The Mercury newspaper favoured the importation of labour, although other Natal newspapers were against the idea. In general, the importation of labour was not viewed as politically important by colonists when it was proposed, and the importation of Indian labour was driven by lobbying by a relatively small group of sugar planters, and the long-term consequences of Indian immigration (the establishment of a permanent Indian population in Natal) were not taken into account (by 1904, Indians outnumbered whites in Natal).

The remaining Indian immigration was from passenger Indians, comprising traders, and others who migrated to South Africa shortly after the indentured labourers, paid for their own fares and travelled as British Subjects. These immigrant Indians who became traders were from varying religious backgrounds, some being Hindu and some being Muslims from Gujarat (including Memons and Surtis), later joined by Konkanis, and Urdu speakers. These Muslims played an important part in the establishment of Islam in the areas where they settled. Indian traders were sometimes referred to as "Arab traders" because of their dress, as large numbers of them were Muslim.

Indentured labourers on sugar plantations were frequently mistreated, and lived in unsanitary conditions. However, formerly indentured labourers quickly established themselves as an important general labour force in Natal particularly as industrial and railway workers, growing most of the vegetables consumed by the white population. A large percentage of indentured labourers returned to India following the expiry of their terms, and some of those who returned alerted authorities in India to abuses taking place in Natal, which led to new safeguards being put in place before further recruiting of indentured labourers was allowed to take place.

Passenger Indians, who initially operated in Durban, expanded inland, establishing communities in settlements on the main road between Jo'burg and Durban. Natal's Indian traders rapidly displaced small white shop owners in trade with other Indians, and with black Africans, causing resentment among white businesses.


In 1961, Indians were officially recognised as permanent part of the South African population, the Department of Indian Affairs was established, with a white minister in charge. In 1968, the South African Indian Council came into being, serving as a link between the government and the Indian people.The University of Durban- Westville was built with a Rand-for-Rand contribution from Indian South Africans and the government in the 1970s. Before that, Indian students had to take a ferry to Salisbury Island's abandoned prison, which served as their university.Casual racist expressions were used during the years of apartheid. Indians in South Africa were (and sometimes still are) referred to by the racial term "coolie "


Many Indians played an important role in the anti-apartheid struggle and some occupied positions of power in post-apartheid South Africa. Indians who were citizens before 1994, and thus discriminated against by apartheid, are considered black for the purposes of Employment Equity, that is, they are classified as having been disadvantaged under apartheid. They are thus eligible for affirmative action. They are also eligible for Black Economic Empowerment.

South African Post released 3 stamps in Dec 2011 to mark the 150th Anniversary of arrival of Indian workers in South Africa.

SA 1 & 3 are the 2011 stamps . SA2 is a 1994 stamp depicting Indian laborer working in sugar cane field.

:  Kenneth Sequeira : email - kenneth.sequeira@hotmail.com


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