Indentured labourers’ legacy goes on

2017-11-23 06:00
PHOTO: COURTESY OF JAISINGH SINGHOfficials and Tamil School children.

PHOTO: COURTESY OF JAISINGH SINGHOfficials and Tamil School children.

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TODAY marks 157 years of Indians’ arrival in KZN from India.

Indentured labourers arrived on our shores on November 16, 1860.

Two ships were charted to pioneer the introduction of the indentured labourers to South Africa with their families respectively. The first ship left India on October 1860 and the other followed later.

Among them there were farmers, carpenters, accountants, mechanics and many more with skills that shaped the history of South Africa. The descendants of the indentured labourers have over the years worked hard to preserve the history of their forefathers.

One of these pioneers is Jaisingh Singh (86) from Verulam, the founder of the 1860 Indentured Labourers Foundation, Verulam.

The foundation was established on December 7, 2008 and officially launched on December 16, 2009.

The main objectives of the foundation are to honour the indentured labourers and preserve and propagate the heritage they have created in the community.

The foundation also fosters, builds and promotes harmonious co-existence both among the diverse linguistic, religious and cultural sectors of their descendants and among all South Africans.

According to the brochure called Girmit, the foundation also builds public structures, erects plaques, exhibits photographs documents and artifacts and implements outreach programmes with a sense of social responsibility to the Verulam community.

The records of the foundation show that in the early years of Indian settlement in Verulam in the 1870s, Hindu groups held chariot processions and festivals with groups participating from Umdloti, Ottawa, Cottonlands, Mission Station, Grangetoen and Temple Valley.

According to records of the Verulam Sunni Masjid most of the indentured Muslim labourers were “urdu” speaking and this language became the lingua franca of Mosques and Madressas.

Manny Lutchaman (57) from Tongaat has always been vocal and proactive in preserving the history of the indentured labourers and to instil positive thoughts in his community to know their identity.

“Tongaat has lot of historical sites. However, our town is becoming null and void because no one wants to bring it back to its former glory and make it such an interesting place.” Tongaat community and former political activist Siva Naidoo said the area is a relatively small town, but has a rich history which includes amongst others being the cradle of Indian indenture in early 19th century. “It is undeniably a town that is deeply rooted in rich history,struggle and sacrifice.

“Some of the high points being a diverse population, the town’s economy was initially based on production of sugar – making SA as one of the fifth largest sugar producing countries in the world in the mid-60s.

Indian and African working class virtually built the erstwhile Tongaat Sugar Company – now known as Tongaat Hulett as one of the corporate leaders in South Africa.” Naidoo said one of the sessions of the historic Kliptown conference where the Freedom Charter was adopted was chaired by NIC stalwart, a Tongaat resident, Gopalal Hurbans, a close confidant of Nelson Mandela. The main road was renamed the Gopalal Hurbans Road. “This town produced Billy Nair, who played a monumental role in the growth and development of the organised trade union movement in our country – not to mention he was the co-convenor with Baba Curnick Ndlovu of the ANC Natal High Command. This town also produced many luminaries who played a critical role in the transition of local government, including the likes of late councillors Sanele Nxumalo, James Mthembu, Samson Ndende and Reggie Naidoo – all of whom served the ANC with great distinction.

“The likes of Jay Naidoo, the first general secretary of Cosatu and Alec Erwin organised sugar company and textile workers in the 70’s and 80’s in Tongaat.

Naidoo added that in continuing with the legacy of Madiba his biography clearly illustrates his time of hiding at the residence of the late Gopalal Hurbans disguised as an employee at his service station in Gandhis Hill.


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