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First S African Indian honoured

world Updated: Nov 17, 2010 09:03 IST
South Africa

A wall inscribed with the names of first batch of 200 Indian labourers, who arrived in South Africa 150 years ago, has been unveiled at the Freedom Park in Pretoria by the Premier of Gauteng province.

The Wall of Names at Freedom Park, a national monument, bears names of all the 200 indentured labourers who arrived from India by ship on November 16, 1860 along with 75,000 South Africa's national heroes who died during genocide and pre-colonial wars, two world wars and liberation struggle.

Unveiling the names, Gauteng Premier Nomvula Mokonyane called on South Africans to reinvent Indian freedom fighter Mahatma Gandhi's non-violent approach.

"We need to resist and fight tendencies that seek to erode what make us human. We should discard traits that are anathema to public goodwill," Mokonyane said.

He stressed arrival of Indians changed the history of South Africa. "The story of South Africa would never be complete without the chapter on the people of Indian descent."

Speaking on the occasion, Indian High Commissioner to South Africa, Virendra Gupta said many of the first Indians came of their own accord in search of a life better than the impoverished one they had under their British colonial masters in India, only to find the same in South Africa.

"A lot were also rounded up and forced onto the ships to accept indenture as part of shared colonial exploitation that both our countries suffered," Gupta said, adding India was proud of the way in which the settlers had brought their religion, culture, values and traditions with them.

"Indians have the ability to assimilate and evolve with the culture of the country that they find themselves in, and here they regard themselves as proud citizens of South Africa."

Speakers described the inhumane conditions under which the first Indians were forced to endure slave-like conditions in the sugar plantations. Some even committed suicide rather than face their families and friends after being humiliated by their colonial British masters.

But, most of them toiled their way out of dehumanising and demeaning situation of slavery to excel in different fields, building schools for their children, temples and mosques to ensure the survival of their religious practices despite draconian apartheid-era legislation.