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Indians brought prosperity with them to South Africa

The stream of Indian labourers in South Africa was part of nearly 1.25 million Indians that had migrated abroad in the 19th & early 20th century.
PTI | By Hassim Seedat
PUBLISHED ON JAN 07, 2005 04:20 PM IST

In the first free and democratic South African Parliament, four Indians took their seats as Cabinet Ministers in 1994. The Minister of Justice was Dullah Omar, Mac Maharaj was the Transport Minister, Kader Asmal was the Minister of Water Affairs and Jay Naidoo was the Minister of Post and Telecommunications. Valli Moosa was the Deputy Minister of Local Government and another, Aziz Pahad, was the Deputy Foreign Minister. In addition to many other Indian parliamentarians, Frene Ginwala was the Speaker of the House.

Taking into consideration that Indians compose a mere 3% of the population of South Africa, the proportion of the seats held by them in Parliament has been acknowledged as a unique achievement in world politics and an affirmation of the important role played by Indians in the struggle for freedom in the country.

Commencing in 1860, over 152, 000 Indians arrived in South Africa until 1911 when the Indenture System came to an end. The first paddle ship that dropped anchor at Durban on the 16th of November, 1860, with the indentured labourers was the Truro. This stream of labourers was part of the nearly 1.25 million Indians that had migrated abroad as labourers in the 19th and early 20th century- mainly to the British colonies to develop them to enrich the British Empire and raise their economies to encourage European immigration to them.

In Natal for example, Sir Liege Hulett, a sugar baron, commented in 1908 that the "condition of the colony before importation of Indian labour was one of gloom; now the coast has been turned into one of the most prosperous parts of South Africa." A second much smaller stream of Indians who were mainly traders and entrepreneurs from Gujarat followed the Indentured Indians to the Colonies. Indian merchants had been trading with Africa since the 2nd century A.D.

The Portuguese Vasco da Gama in his quest to find the sea route to India was navigated there by a Gujarati pilot by the name of Kahnna in 1498. The Indian - African commercial contact had developed and prospered long before any European contact with Africa.

The export of human cargo across the oceans from India replaced the slave trade that provided labour in the colonies. In 1834 all slaves in the British possessions were emancipated. The system of Indenture did not differ substantially from the slavery system. Indeed it was described as a New System of Slavery. It is against this backdrop that an assessment of the development of the Indians abroad must be made.

A chronology of anti-Indian legislations since the arrival of the Indians in the country ran into over 100 Acts and Laws. This is proof positive that the massive onslaught of laws against Indians were to ensure that they were not a threat to the Whites. Indian enterprise and successes had to be curbed drastically.

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