Hundreds celebrate arrival of first Indians to South Africa

Hundreds celebrate arrival of first Indians to South Africa

Johannesburg, Nov 16 (PTI) Hundreds of sixth and seventh generation Indian-origin South Africans on Thursday marked the arrival of their first forebears as indentured labourers on this day in 1860 with a variety of activities.

The day started with the symbolic ringing of a bell mounted in the 1860 Heritage Centre in Durban three, four and then two times to signify the 342 passengers who were the first indentured labourers to arrive on the shores of the city after an arduous voyage on November 16, 1860.

Kiru Naidoo, a board member of the Gandhi-Luthuli Centre at the University of KwaZulu-Natal, explained that there were more passengers on the ship who lost their lives during the voyage through illness.

'We honour those who did not get a decent burial. The 1860 Heritage Centre honours all those who arrived here (in the ensuing decades),' Naidoo said.

'Today we, the descendants of those indentured workers, honour a people's journey to the land of our birthplace, South Africa. We pay tribute to the courage, resilience and sacrifice of 152,184 indentured workers that arrived on 384 ships between 1860 to 1911 to help in building the nation of South Africa,” said Selvan Naidoo, Curator of the 1860 Heritage Centre.

From the Centre, the group proceeded to significant religious sites across the city which were among the first to be set up by the Indians who arrived on the ships. These were the Hazrath Badsha Peer Mosque, the Emmanuel cathedral and the Shri Vaithianatha Easvarar Alayam Umgeni Road Temple.

As a final tribute, several hundred people gathered on the Durban beach to launch marigold flowers into the sea. Among those participating was 100-year-old James Ratibar.

Dr. Thelma John David, the Consul General of India in Durban, also lowered some of the flowers into the sea.

'I feel humbled and greatly privileged to represent India on this solemn occasion. This is the place which is an important part of the foundation of our special ties between South Africa and India - ties bound not only by the contributions of the indentured Indian workers but also by the beauty of our shared languages, our traditions and our culture,” David said.

“It is a historic moment of Remembrance, remembering our forefathers and mothers, their hard-won achievements that enrich this country and our relationship as two free democratic nations.

“It is also a moment to respect and be responsible in preserving the memories of those who worked from sunrise to sunset,” the diplomat said.

She was referring to the slave-like conditions under which the indentured labourers had to work from dawn to dusk in the sugar cane fields with meagre payment and poor living conditions for their colonial masters.

'It is a moment to remind ourselves of their resilience in face of all these adversities to create a story of growth and change in the place they lived. A story of preserving their culture, character and traditions through generations,' David added.

'Through our partnership as two vibrant democracies. It is also particularly important that this year we are commemorating the 30th year anniversary of reestablishment of our diplomatic ties. The Government of India is committed to deepening its ties with our diaspora abroad,” David concluded as she shared how many South Africans have been recipients of the Pravasi Bhartiya Awards. PTI FH ZH ZH

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