The first indentured workers arrived on the shores of Durban one hundred and forty seven years ago on 16 November 1860. They sailed from Madras (now known as Chinnai) in India on 13 October 1860 on the SS Truro. While they left behind their families, they did not leave behind their rich traditions and culture. Being alone in a strange land surrounded by people of different faiths and cultures and a restrictive oppressive system of indenture which was a short term slavery, it is remarkable how they through their own endeavours kept alive their religious beliefs, their dance and music and their language.
Their resilience to oppression and their dedication to the education of their children resulted in thousands of free Indians taking on better jobs and employment opportunities in the economic life of the country. Their thriftiness and devotion enabled them to build schools for their children, temples for the community and provide health services to the sick.
In 1913 it was these workers who rose up in their thousands from the mines in Newcastle to the Sugar fields of Natal, striking and demonstrating for better conditions of work. Many lost their lives in the struggle, many went to prison. But they left a legacy of bravery and steadfastness to the cause of freedom.
The community never looked back since the 1913’s and each generation thereafter threw up leaders of stature and courage. Today we sorely need to remember that history and to resolve never to caste a blemish on such a powerful history by displaying racism, irresponsible behaviour, corruption and violence. Those sacrifices made by these pioneers should never be allowed to be in vain.