Durban — The government of India is committed to deepening its ties with its diaspora abroad. This was revealed by Dr Thelma John David, the Consul-General of India, in Durban during the commemoration of the Indentured Workers Arrival Day held at Durban Beach on Thursday.
This is the historic day which took place on November 16, 1860, when the first Indians landed in Durban aboard the SS Truro from Madras. They were brought to work in the sugar-cane plantations of the then-Port Natal. These 152 184 indentured labourers were not free men and women.
Dr David said she was humbled and greatly privileged to represent India on the solemn occasion marking the 163rd anniversary of the arrival of indentured Indian labourers on South African shores.
“On a personal note, I am deeply moved every time I visit this place, which is no less than a pilgrimage site for all Indians. This is the place which is an important part of the foundation of our special ties between South Africa and India – ties bound not only by the contributions of the indentured Indian workers and also by the beauty of our shared languages, our traditions and our culture.”
David said that Indian South Africans shared many connections with India besides just history and experience but also the Gandhian legacy, vibrant cultures, languages and, above all, through trade and commerce.
“Through our partnership as two vibrant democracies, it is also particularly important that this year we are commemorating the 30-year anniversary of the re-establishment of our diplomatic ties. The government of India is committed to deepening its ties with our diaspora abroad, the Pravasi Bharatiya,” said David.
Pravasi Bharatiya Divas is a celebratory day observed on January 9 by the Republic of India to mark the contribution of the overseas Indian community towards the development of India. The day commemorates the return of Mahatma Gandhi from South Africa to Mumbai on January 9, 1915.
Krish Gokool, the chairperson of the 1860 Heritage Centre and Heritage Foundation, said the Indian Arrival Day commemoration ceremony was started by his father, Jumna Persad Gokool, in 1960. The ceremony was held to honour indentured labourers and paid homage to their forefathers, who arrived by ship.
“My dad would host the event every year at City Hall and then proceed to the harbour to do the prayers where, as per tradition, around 60 senior citizens were transported to the beach where candles, camphor and incense sticks will be lit during a prayer. When he passed away in 1986, I took over.
“The event is a milestone and a very important part of Indian indentured labourers’ history in South Africa, something that needs to be celebrated. When it comes to the auspicious prayers that take place, the priest along with others will light the camphor and pray,” said Gokool.
He said that two years ago they introduced the placing of a marigold in the water.
“The marigold was introduced as a symbolic gesture, mainly because the indentured labourers brought marigolds to South Africa, but also placing them in the Indian Ocean waters was fitting,” said Gokool.
Selvan Naidoo, the director at the 1860 Heritage Centre (which organises the event), said: “The 16th of November 2023 marks the 163rd anniversary of the first indentured workers arriving at their African homes aboard the SS Truro in 1860. Aboard 384 ships, 152 184 souls were transported as human cargo from 1860 to 1911 to simply provide labour in growing the colonial economy of KwaZulu-Natal.
“We called on the public to join us in a day of prayer while wearing traditional dress on this auspicious day as we commemorate this part of our South African heritage,” said Naidoo.
The day started with an interfaith prayer, the playing of the national anthem, a bell-ringing ceremony and a keynote address. The event ended with the offering of marigolds to the Indian Ocean waters.
Rativar Genda was given the opportunity to place the first marigold in the ocean to symbolise the indentured Indians’ arrival on the shores of KwaZulu-Natal in 1860.
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