Indian South African History

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  • Topic: South Africa, Non-resident Indian and Person of Indian Origin, Africa
  • Pages : 22 (8013 words )
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  • Published : August 30, 2011
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1860 - 1960
Indians arrived in South Africa in 1860 and, at the time of this writing, have been in the country for over 140 years. That would make about five generations born in the country. 1860 - 1914
Brought to the British colony of Natal in1860 as indentured labourers, coolies, on five-year contracts, Indians came to work mainly on sugar plantations where they lived under very harsh and cruel conditions.  After five years, they were given the options of renewing their contracts, returning to India or becoming independent workers. To induce the coolies into second terms, the colonial government of Natal promised grants of land on expiry of contracts. But the colony did not honour this agreement and only about fifty people received plots. Nevertheless, many opted for freedom and became small holders, market gardeners, fishermen, domestic servants, waiters or coal miners.  Some left the colony.  By the 1870's, free Indians were exploring opportunities in the Cape Colony, the Orange Free State and the South African Republic (Transvaal).  Those who sought to make their fortunes in the diamond and gold fields were not allowed digging rights and became traders, hawkers and workers. Continued importation of indentured labour until 1911, though sporadic, encouraged opportunistic traders and merchants from India and Mauritius to emigrate to South Africa. These independent immigrants, known as "passenger" Indians, began arriving in the country from about 1875. Many of them quickly acquired land and set up businesses and trading posts. When their enterprises began to encroach on white settlements, laws and regulations were passed to limit their expansion and acquisition of land. Immigrants living in the Republics, unlike those in the British colony of Natal, were not enfranchised and were not welcome in the Republics and laws were passed to contain their growth and development. The Transvaal's onerous Act 3 of 1885, debarred them from owning land and confined them to locations.  But "passenger" Indians, who believed that as British subjects, they were entitled to the protection of the crown, were not afraid to enter into litigation. As early as the 1880's, Indian merchants in the Transvaal were petitioning the government and challenging its laws in the courts. They sent a petition to the government protesting Act 3 of 1885 and when it was ignored, took their protest to the British High Commissioner.  When this failed as well, Ismail Suliman & Co. challenged Act 3 in the courts in August 1888.  Before that, in June 1888, Indian merchants had protested against curfew regulations on the grounds that they were not African. So before Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi arrived in South Africa in 1893, Indians were actively involved in litigation against governments. In Natal, the merchant elite, under the leadership of a very wealthy ship owner, Sheth Dada Abdulla had established an Ad-Hoc Committee to deal with restrictive legislation.  When the Sheth became involved in a legal battle with his cousin, Sheth Tyeb Haji Khan Muhammed, an equally influential leader amongst Indians in the Transvaal, he wrote to a law firm in India and MK Gandhi, a barrister, was sent to South Africa to deal with the matter. He arrived in 1893 and dealt very competently with the suit, bringing it to arbitration and reconciling the cousins. After the case, the local merchants, realising the value of a lawyer in their midst, prevailed upon Gandhi to stay in South Africa to give proper legal direction to their activities. He agreed and through his involvement with this group, began to learn of the problems facing Indians in the country. In 1894, Gandhi became the secretary of the merchants Ad Hoc Committee, gave it a new name, the Natal Indian Congress, and set about challenging legislation aimed at disempowering Indians. He organised meetings and petitions to stop the Bills, but the Franchise Act, which disenfranchised all...
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