Though the history of South Africa is marked by brutality, oppression and injustice, there are aspects of our past that birthed our present strength. Among them is the arrival of indentured labourers from India.
This week, on the 16th of November 2022, our country marked 162 years since the Truro docked at the Port of Natal. In the fifty years that followed, some 200 000 Indians were brought to Natal through the indentured labour system. Thus Natal become home to a people who would enrich South Africa for generations to come.
I believe it is important for us to celebrate this milestone in our country’s history. We should not allow such anniversaries to go unmarked or unnoticed. The simple fact is that South Africa would not be the democracy it is today without the presence and contribution of Indian South Africans.
This is particularly true for KwaZulu-Natal. Between 1860 and 1911, Indian indentured labourers worked in our sugar cane fields and coal mines, and on our railways. While some returned to India once their term of indentured labour ended, those who stayed raised families, started businesses and became a significant labour force.
They were joined by passenger Indians, who paid their own way to the Natal Colony, coming as immigrant traders, artisans and teachers. By 1904, there were more Indians in Natal than whites. They put down deep roots in our soil. They tied their destiny to the destiny of South Africa and became active in the liberation movement, which itself was deeply influenced by the Mahatma Gandhi.
With this ancestry, Indians born in South Africa today are as much South African as my own Zulu grandchildren. I count it a privilege to have worked hand in hand with Indian patriots, building our country, for seven decades.
I still believe that, when it comes to creating social and economic justice in South Africa, we are in this together. There will be no justice for some, while others are left behind. Unless we approach our future together, embracing the value of every contribution, there will be no future. Let us therefore celebrate our shared history and walk together into shared future.