Indians in South Africa

South African Indians make up nearly one million Indians living in South Africa with about 80% hail from the province of KwaZulu-Natal.

Historically, Indians have played a crucial role in the fight against colonialism, apartheid and to this day are as much an African as any other South African citizen.

ALSO READSugar In My Blood‘ is a poignant story based on the life of the late, Muniamma Naidoo & the Khan family of Verulam by South African author, Naufal Khan.

Culturally South African Indians still keep their ancestral history alive through art disciplines of dance and music. They also have a variety of multiple ethnic languages ranging from Hindi, Urdu, Gujarati, Parsi, Arabic, Tamil and Telugu.

The religious difference and language barrier between South African Indians does not divide them as a community.

The Indians in KwaZulu-Natal are predominantly Hindu while those living in and around Cape Town are mainly Muslim with about 5 per cent of Indians are of the Christian faith.

ALSO READSugar In My Blood‘ is a poignant story based on the life of the late, Muniamma Naidoo & the Khan family of Verulam by South African author, Naufal Khan.

Indentured laborers in South Africa

The first Indians arrived in South Africa in 1860 as indentured labourers on the sugar plantations in Natal. A shortage of labour and an inability to secure the local Zulu population as a work pool necessitated the import of Indians.

The British Government invited the labourers, mostly from Upper India and Madras, to South Africa and contracted them to work for periods of 3-5 years. When their contracts expired they could either be renewed or they could return to India at the expense of the Government.

However many chose the option of staying in South Africa and receiving in return a plot of land equal in value to the cost of their passage back to India.

Those that stayed on were usually absorbed into the various sectors of the economy as labourers or started up farming their own land. A second group of Indians, arriving in South Africa around the same time as the first were British subjects who having paid their own costs to travel over there, settled in Natal where they started up their own businesses.

ALSO READSugar In My Blood‘ is a poignant story based on the life of the late, Muniamma Naidoo & the Khan family of Verulam by South African author, Naufal Khan.

The presence of Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi in South Africa

Mohandas ‘Mahatma’ Gandhi arrived in South Africa in May 1893 as a 23-year old barrister, to assist an Indian merchant in a civil law suit.

At the time he had no interest in or experience of politics except for a strong sense of duty, an attachment to truth and an urge to serve humanity.

What he experienced in South Africa changed his life forever.

He became concerned about educating and uniting the Indian community that was then dispersed and divided by class, religion and language. Gandhi helped establish the Natal Indian Congress in 1894 and the Transvaal British Indian Association in 1903 to defend the rights of Indians.

At the time, Gandhi had great faith in the British sense of justice and diligently sought to persuade whites that Indians too were civilized people entitled to better rights. Gandhi led an Indian ambulance corps during the Anglo-Boer War of 1899-1902 and later a stretcher-bearer corps during the Zulu rebellion of 1906.

However, he soon came to the realization that his efforts and petitions were falling on deaf ears and that he would soon need either a physical or a superior, spiritual soul force behind him to endure the struggle for better rights.

Indian culture and religion in South Africa

Many Indians living in South Africa still maintain their ancient traditions and customs with the unique Indian cuisine being a firm favourite among South Africans.

Indians both Muslim and Hindu stay in South Africa, but the first group of Indians to set foot on African soil consisted mainly of Hindus.

They brought with them their ancient caste system and laws, a laid out social hierarchy which governed everything from your type of work to the marriage partner you would be expected to take.

However Indians soon abandoned the caste system in their new found home leaving economic status and intellectual achievement to develop as the new yardstick for admission to social status.

Hinduism is not solely a religion but also a life philosophy which accepts the existence of many different gods and deities.

Hindus also believe in the concept of reincarnation or many rebirths and most have private household altars where offerings can be made and prayers be said. Weddings continue to appear as prominent highlights on most Indians’ social calendars.

In the past, the bride was expected to live with her husband in his parental home. However, now days in the modern Indian community the emphasis has shifted from the extended family to that of the nuclear family.

But also changing with the times has been the role of women, with more and more Indian women becoming educated and economically active.

ALSO READ: Sugar In My Blood‘ is a poignant story based on the life of the late, Muniamma Naidoo & the Khan family of Verulam by South African author, Naufal Khan.


About lakshya

Editor for Indianspice.co.za

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