The Indian South African 1975
The Indian population of South Africa owes its presence in the country to the labour problem experienced by pioneer farmers who established sugar plantations in the British colony of Natal during the 19th century. The sugarcane growers of those early times imported the original plants from Mauritius and with the harvesting of the first crop in 1 851 a valuable industry emerged.
The recruitment of indentured Indian workers for the cane fields of the West Indies, British Guiana and Mauritius was already in full swing then, but the employment of black labour for the South African cane fields proved ur1successful.
The Zulu people of Natal had their own tribal interests and were unwilling to leave their homes for unstipulated periods. Finally the growers appealed to the authorities to recruit workers from India for the Natal cane fields.
At first the British Government showed little interest in the scheme, but eventμally yielded to continued pressure from the growers. Legislation was passed in 1859 which resulted in an expansion of the indentured labour project to include the requirements of South Africa.
The first contingent of Indians arrived on the S.S. Truro, that docked in Durban on l\lovember 16, 1860. Later that month more arrived on the Belvedere. Recruiting officials in Madras and Calcutta implemented the scheme and between October, 1860, and February, 1 861, they sent five ships to Natal with a total of 1 360 Indian men and women.
Women made up 25 per cent of the immigrants, but this figure, later to increase to 41, did not include the children of the married couples.
Many of the indentured workers were accompanied by relatives or friends, but there were many who travelled alone and so found themselves among strangers.
The indentured Indians came from all parts of southern and eastern India and different factors motivated them. For most it was a case of escaping from conditions of extreme poverty with its resultant misery and disease, while others were spurred by ambition or a sense of adventure. Coming as they did from all parts of India, different languages and cultures were present among the immigrants.
There were a few Christians and a small number ofMuslims, but the majority were Hindus belonging to different caste systems.
The period of indenture was three year:; but this was subsequently extended to five. At the end of their contract period the Indians were offered one of three choices: to renew their original indenture; to return to India at the South African Government's expense or to accept a piece of Crown land equal in value to the costof a return passage.
Many cho::.e land and took up occupations to which they were suited. Others sought work as labourers in various sectors of the economy while some farmed the Crown land they had received.
Few elected to return to India.
Indentured or immigrant labourers were followed by other groups known as passenger Indians as they had paid their own passage; they were British subjects travelling freely within the Empire, who had decided to live and conduct their commercial activities in Natal. Most of them carne from India, with the odd few from Mauritius and East Africa. Their descendants constitute about 20 per cent of today's Indian population.
Unlike their indentured countrymen, most of whom were Hindus, the majority of the passenger Indians were Muslims and there were other cultural and language barriers too, as they came from the northern and western provinces of India and spoke Gujarati and Urdu, while the indentured Indians spoke Tamil and Hindi. Some ot the Gujarati-speaking passenger Indians were of the Hindu faith.
Although the passenger Indians came to South Africa to trade among the indentured Indians, they soon extended their activities. As itinerant shopkeepers they made their way inland, trading among all population groups.
The flow of Indian immigrants remained steady and, with the exception of an interruption between 1 866 and 18 7 4, by 1891 no less than two thirds of the indentured labourers were no longer bound by contract. In that year the number of Indians resident in Natal had increased to 35 763 compared with the 46 788 for the older-established White population.