Work hard, play hard

2010-10-11 00:00

IN 1903 the Sam China Tournament began in Kimberley. It was a football tournament that was held once every­ two years to help “keep Indians together”. The tournament was named after Chinakoo Moodley (known as Sam China) who had donated a trophy in 1902 to the South African Indian Football Association (SAIFA), which he conceived and chaired in 1903.

Moodley was born in 1855 in Pondicherry and arrived in South Africa with his parents when he was eight. Seeking fortune, he was lured to Kimberley in search of diamonds, on a trail blazed by Cecil John Rhodes and Barney Barnato. From Natal, Moodley walked to Kimberley in 21 days.

“By dint of determination and hard work, he overcame difficulties, heartaches and moments of exasperation and despair and within a few years he had acquired a chain of stores and prospered,” said son Nat Moodley in a note about his father.

As an ardent athlete, he contributed his time and money to promote sports.

“For more than 66 years the name Sam China Cup has stirred the imagination of Indian soccerites throughout South Africa and inspired them to strive hard to gain selection in the respective provincial teams … outstanding soccerites were produced whose names enrich the history of South African Indian [football],” wrote the 1968 president of the SAIFA. These names include Thiri Rampath, Bob Pillay, VC Moodley, Links Padayachee, Dharam Mohan and Billy Reddy among others.

Pietermaritzburg resident, Bal Satgoor who currently resides in Raisethorp, played for the Northern Natal team in the Sam China Tournament. His football career started in high school where he was captain of the Woodland’s High School team in 1952.

In the Sam China tournament, his team, Northern Natal, won the cup for the first time in 1959, making history after beating Transvaal 5 – 1 at Curries Fountain in Durban. However, Transvaal regained their glory in the finals against Northern Natal in 1961, the last Sam China tournament ever played.

Other sports popular too

“Sporting events allowed everybody to participate: young and old. Nobody left without a reward at the end of the day,” said Pietermaritzburg resident, Moonsamy Chetty, who had grown up on Baynesfield Estate after his father, Kuppusamy Chetty, arrived from India in 1893.

“We participated in cricket, [football], tennikoit, rounders, hockey, fishing, three-tins ... these took place frequently.”

Sporting events were often monitored by authorities. Some sports were encouraged as it ensured that the labourers’ free time was spent productively and not spent drinking and visiting brothels.

Religion, song and dance

Religion, drama, song and dance were also popular leisure activities. Kuppusamy built two temples in Baynesfield­ and helped build Bethany Church. Kuppusamy and Moonsamy were drama teachers, and, in addition, Moonsamy played the banjo and bul-bul-thara (an instrument).

“I would sometimes take my brothers and sisters of Christian faith to Durban. I would listen to Music in the morning on Sundays with Jugadhesan Deva and Ruthnam Pillay, which was the only radio show for the Indian community,” said Moonsamy Chetty.

“There were times when we would interact with our Zulu-speaking brothers and join them around a bonfire on cold days, telling stories and laughing to our hearts’ content. Occasionally we drank Zulu beer (utshwala), which was made by fermenting bread and yeast.”

Due to South Africa’s racialised past, most of the labourers’ leisure time was spent with other indentured. Many regulations were also enforced by colonial masters to contain rowdy behaviour. In instances, masters also joined the indentured in various sports or refereed them.

“Many of the indentured refused to listen to their employers and middle-class cousins and pursued with vigour and enthusiasm leisure-time activities ranging from wrestling to music and alcohol. They challenged the status quo, both the colonial authorities and their own self-appointed community leaders­”.

— Inside Indenture, see side pa nel .

WHEN I was a toddler, I was often shunned while my siblings and cousins played Thunee for hours on end. It was a regular event at family functions and, when I was old enough to understand the game, I weasled my way into a team.

Even though I went to Durban Girls’ High, Thunee was popular during break times and free periods. The game had surpassed racial boundaries and was no longer an Indian game. I admit, I even lost to a white girl in my class on more than one occasion.

I was introduced to Thunee-fundraising tournaments at university which seemed to attract highly-strung and overcompetitive partners who swore at you if you miscalculated a hand.

Tournament players spent more time practising strategies with their friends than they spent in lectures. One of my friends never went to the campus library in three years of studying due to his card obsession.

According to an article that was published in 2003 in the Daily News, Thunee was created by Ramsamy Naidoo, an indentured labourer who was the sardar at the sugar-cane estate of De Charmoy and Angel in La Mercy (KwaZulu-Natal) during 1872.

“This is the only card game to originate in South Africa,” said Ramsamy’s descendent, Tulsidaas Naidoo, “and today it is played in many countries. It has been exported by visiting sailors and by our people who have settled in faraway lands.

“It is a marvellous game that not only keeps players excited, but fascinates spectators as well.”

The game was named Thunee (water in Tamil) because “they did not want their children to know that they drank cane spirits.

“It was a kind of moral issue and parents did not encourage their young ones to acquire a taste for ‘White Lightning’,” said Tulsidaas.

In 2003, the first Thunee World Championship was held in Pietermaritzburg’s Golden Horse Casino with entrants from a number of countries, including India.

ACCORDING to Inside Indenture: A South African Story by Ashwin Desai and Goolam Vahed, at least 20% of Indians smoked ganja in Pietermaritzburg at the beginning of the 20th century.

Ganja (in Bengal) was a mixture of tobacco, opium and hemp mixed with brown sugar and, according to the Wragg Commission, it was used widely by indentured men. In 1886, Maritzburger Dr Richard Allen­ reported that ganja continued to “breed discord between the Indian and his employer”.

Other common vices among the indentured men included drinking and gambling. Legislation was implemented in an attempt to control substance abuse since it often resulted in violence and affected the working standards of the indentured; however, these regulations were largely ignored. Middle-class Indians frowned upon such behaviour and women who indulged in these vices were judged most harshly. In 1918, the Durban magistrate was persuaded to prohibit the supply of alcohol to women in public bars.

Gambling led to sleepless nights and debt. In 1912, an inspector warned the Protector that there was too much gambling among the Indians and that it should be stopped. Later they took to horse-racing.

THUNEE is a card game played almost exclusively in apartheid-labelled Indian townships.

It is played with either two, three, four or six players but works best with four players in two teams.

The game uses 24 of the 52 British-created card pack (ace, king, queen, jack, nine and 10). Each card used to play has its own name and value. The jack, the most powerful card in the pack, is worth 30 points and is called khanna (brother in tamil). The queen (Rani) and king (Raja) are the lowest-valued cards in the game and worth two and three points respectively.

The sixes of the pack are used as ‘ball’ cards to keep count of each team’s points. The first team to reach 13 points wins the game.

The rules of the game are initially complicated to newbies since there are many different plays and calls (some that even I have yet to learn), but the game is addictive once one gets the hang of it.

Note, there is no official manual, though many online versions may help. If all else fails, grab an Indian.

• For more information on how to play, visit

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