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'Include indentured labour in history curriculum' urge 1860 foundation

Indentured labourers aboard the SS Umzinto during the early 1900s. PIC: Stewart and Sar Fairbairn of Australia

Indentured labourers aboard the SS Umzinto during the early 1900s. PIC: Stewart and Sar Fairbairn of Australia

Published Jul 5, 2019


Durban - A ministerial task team considering changes to the school History syllabus is being urged to include the history of indentured labour in the curriculum.

This comes after the 1860 Indentured Labourers Foundation recently held a conference that resolved to make an application to the Basic Education Department for the inclusion of Indian indentured history in the curriculum for grades 4 to 12.

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The department acknowledged receiving the letter and said the matter would be dealt with by the Ministerial Task Team on history. The foundation’s application comes as the inclusion of history as a compulsory school subject is being debated.

In an information pamphlet, it stressed the importance of highlighting the contribution made by indentured labour to South African history.

“It is important to preserve the history and heritage of the Indian indentured labourers and for this purpose there is a need to continually educate and inform our community, society at large and the people of the world globally,” the organisation said.

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The organisation also wanted history to be taught at primary, secondary and tertiary levels.

Sociologist professor Ashwin Desai, of the University of Johannesburg, said there was a lack of material on how Indians came to the country and how they were viewed by colonial powers.

He said the National Party wanted to repatriate Indians in 1948, and there was talk of sending them to Brazil. Desai said that when Indian indentured labour came to South Africa, slavery had been abolished and the labourers concerned had been dispossessed of their land by the British in India.

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At this time the Zulu nation had not been defeated by the colonial powers and was reluctant to work on farms. Indentured labour filled the gap, Desai said, adding that this illustrated how intertwined colonial history was between various peoples in the country.

He said history should show the good and the bad of the past, and that for Indians in South Africa it was not a “Bollywood romance”.

The inclusion of Indian history in the curriculum was important as South African society was “fracturing and dividing”.

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Professor Labby Ramrathan, the director of the School of Education Studies at the University of KwaZulu-Natal, welcomed the idea of indentured Indian labour being part of the history curriculum, saying that indentured labour was part of South African history. Ramrathan said he hoped it would be included as it would promote social cohesion and would help conscientise South Africans about their history.

Education Department spokesperson Elijah Mhlanga said the ministerial task team was completely independent.

He said it would consult all stakeholders when going about its work.

Task team head Professor Sifiso Ndlovu said there would be a strong emphasis on pre-colonial history in the new syllabus.

He said there was a perception that history began in South Africa with the arrival of the colonisers.

“We want to get a total history of our people,” he said.

Ndlovu said the task team had until 2020 to consider many applications that had been made. He added that the team would make recommendations, but the final decision on what was included in the syllabus would be made by the education minister.

Ndlovu encouraged people to make submissions concerning the curriculum.

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