S.Africa’s Indian community celebrates 150 years

kaleej times, 16-11-2010 19:07:19

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DURBAN, South Africa — South Africa’s Indian community celebrated its 150th anniversary Tuesday with prayer ceremonies on the spot where the first indentured servants from India came ashore in 1860.


In one ceremony, about 40 men in white shirts and women in colourful saris set out in a boat from the eastern port city of Durban, throwing coconuts, bananas, oranges, apples, banana leaves and marigold flowers into the sea in a sign of thanks for their ancestors’ journey.

“Our parents came by ship. We thought it was important to celebrate this on the water,” Seelan Achary, spokesman for the committee that organised the celebrations, told AFP.


As rough waves battered the boat, a Catholic priest, a Muslim imam and a Hindu priest took turns saying prayers facing the jetty where the first ship of Indian indentured servants landed.


Other ceremonies included morning and evening prayer sessions on the beach where those workers came ashore on November 16, 1860.


That day, more than 300 labourers from southern India arrived in South Africa to work on the country’s sugar cane plantations. They were required to work three to five years under gruelling conditions for no wages.


“The word indentured labourer was a sophisticated word invented by the British for slavery,” said 87-year-old Devianithen Sarthy Pillay, whose father arrived from India in 1880 at the age of six.


As the community grew, other Indians came to work as merchants and traders, a migration that continued even after indentured servitude was abolished in 1911.


Today, Indians of South African descent make up less than three percent of South Africa’s population of 50 million people. But the community played a prominent role in the struggle against apartheid and has left a strong cultural imprint.


Curry, bindis and saris are an integral part of life in many South African cities. Durban has some 800,000 South Africans of Indian descent and is home to Hindu temples and the Juma Masjid mosque, one of the largest in the southern hemisphere.


President Jacob Zuma on Monday praised the Indian community’s “vital role” in South African history.

“Their odyssey from slave to full and equal South African citizens is intertwined with the struggle for freedom and democracy in South Africa,” he said.


“We cannot forget that one of the icons of the 20th century, Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, was nurtured by this country. His notions of Satyagraha — passive resistance — and the equality of all human beings were forged in South Africa.”


Zuma said South Africans are “honoured” at the country’s role in shaping the non-violent ideals championed by Gandhi, who spent 21 years in South Africa in between his time in India and England.


In later years, Indian South Africans played key roles in the anti-apartheid struggle. They include Fatima Meer, Yusuf Dadoo and Ahmed Kathrada, who was jailed alongside the country’s first democratic president, Nelson Mandela

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