160 Years of Indians in South Africa

160 Years of Indians in South Africa

It was one stormy night back in 1860 that a boat carrying Indians made land on the shores of Cape Colony in South Africa and the first Indian set foot on the South African soil. Well, not quite. Evidence suggests Indian trading activities as early as 1652. The history of Indians in South Africa has been one of trails and travails to triumph.

The active routes for the Indian traders were along South Africa’s eastern Coastline. It is believed that the Dutch, who also started trading around that time, took them as slaves. Later, during the colonization of South Africa by the British, Indians were brought to South Africa from India, which was also colonized by the British, to work in plantations of the Natal province.

To avoid the term slavery, the term indenture was introduced for the Indians shipped to South Africa. Many of the contemporary Indians can trace back their ancestry to the indentured labors.

During the second half of 1800s Indians flourished in Durban providing cheap labor to plantations and also trading in Indian spices and fabrics. This was because several merchants started venturing their trade to South African shores. The indenture for the laborers was for a period of 5 years after which the workers were offered the options of either returning home or a piece of land. While a few choose to return to India, a large part chose to stay back and became Indians in South Africa to South African Indians.

The start of the 20th century saw the growth and integration of Indians. However, this led to several legislations restricting their movement and rights in South Africa. Discrimination against Indians became rampant and persecution was carried out on the basis of mere existence. This led to a political uprising. And it was around this time that one Mr. Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi came to South Africa. His experience in South Africa not only changed his outlook, but history of two nations as well. He united the dispersed Indian community under a common goal and established the Natal Indian Congress in the year 1894. Gandhi inspired other successful movements throughout South Africa as well.

But by mid 1990s, the apartheid legislation segregated the white from non-whites. Indians were taken away from their properties and relocated to ghettos. This united the South Africans, and activists, regardless of their race and ethnicity, fought for freedom.

Today, Indians are an integral part of South Africa contributing to its economy and growth. They practice their religion and traditions freely in a country that has successfully moved on from the years of discrimination and struggle. South African Indians have attained success in almost all spheres of life including business, education, sports and arts.

The South African Indian community have contributed largely to its diversity. Indians have contributed to all spheres of culture, cuisine, politics and sports. A large part of the South African Indians reside in Durban city in KwaZulu-Natal province.