And nowhere has this been more evident than in homes where they were forced to take up physically demanding tasks as domestic workers - washing, ironing, cleaning and taking care of other people’s children while their own were left to fend for themselves.
Many were vulnerable to various forms of abuse and exploitation - often behind closed doors.
Although they played, and continue to play, such pivotal roles in the lives of the families they worked for, and contribute immensely to the country’s economy, the value of their contributions to society has so often been ignored.
That’s the reason why many young black people who have climbed the success ladder make a point of remembering the tremendous odds they had to overcome to get where they are today, having been raised by their mother, a humble domestic worker.
Although black people admittedly bore the brunt of apartheid oppression, we must not lose sight of the racial discrimination and exploitation experienced by other communities of colour, too.
Let’s not forget that conditions of hunger, poverty and hardship also prevailed in many Indian and coloured homes in areas like Clairwood, Cato Manor, Merebank, Wentworth, Austerville and Welbedacht.
Because so many South Africans remain trapped in their old mindsets of racial stereotypes, not many are aware of the harsh and miserable conditions the early Indian immigrants to this country endured, especially women, who were forced to carry heavy bundles of sugar cane on their backs from sunrise to sunset.
Many were employed as domestic workers in the homes of colonial farmers. Some were subjected to sexual violence, not only by their partners, but also by farmers who raped them in the homes in which they were employed.
Which brings me to my point. Because we are generally still trapped in our racial silos, we end up knowing very little about each other and our histories.
As a country of diverse national, cultural and ethnic identities, we face a great challenge in trying to build a cohesive national identity.
A good start can be made by understanding each other’s history.
After all, our histories cannot be isolated from each other - they are intertwined and complement each other.
For instance, the history of the arrival of first indentured Indian labourers in 1860 cannot be viewed in isolation.
It is inextricably linked to the history of the Zulu people and the white colonialists in so-called Natal at the time.
A sharing of our histories can be achieved by including them in the curriculum for school children to encourage a sense of common belonging in our country.
It is for this reason that people are being encouraged to make submissions to a ministerial task team that’s presently considering changes to the school history syllabus.
Make your voice heard and promote social cohesion in our land.