A history of Indians in SA — at your fingertips

2013-03-13 00:00

AMATEUR historian and computer programmer Cassim Badsha combined both his interests to make information on the ships lists of Indian indentured labourers more accessible. He presented The Witness with a copy of his database yesterday.

Badsha’s interest was sparked when historian and author Goolam Vahed, who accompanied him to The Witness, showed him a website listing the names of the 150 000 indentured labourers who came to South Africa by ship between 1860 and July 1911.

Intrigued by the lists, Badsha spent the past two years designing a computer programme that mines the information on the database. He demonstrated its capabilities, showing the kinds of information that can be accessed.

For example, in Pietermaritzburg there were 86 indentured labourers brought to work in Grey’s Hospital and 73 at the Imperial Hotel. More than 1 760 were brought from India to work for the Durban Corporation.

Badsha’s programme highlights trends, for example the period in which the highest number of indentured labourers arrived, mortality rates, causes of deaths and village and caste statistics.

Vahed explained that the initial list was compiled by Professor Surendra Bhana and a team of researchers and students at the former University of Durban-Westville. They compiled 90 000 of the 150 000 names. But because of spelling and other mistakes, the list was not very credible. Vahed said it was thanks to Professor Joy Brain, who worked voluntarily with another retired academic and a few Quaker volunteers that the lists were completed and corrected.

Vahed said he would meet the team in the archives every week for more than seven years.

“Mr Badsha with his computer programme has taken that information to a new level,” he added.

Badsha said he would be presenting copies of his database to the University of KwaZulu-Natal and the Indian consulate in Durban.

He said he wanted it to be freely accessible to families who wished to research their history as well as to academic and social historians.

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