Durban — There were several events this week to mark the 163rd anniversary of the arrival of Indians in South Africa. One of them was an interfaith prayer hosted by the Shri Mariammen Temple in Mount Edgecombe.
The 1860 Commemoration Council, together with the Hindasa Foundation, Voice of Phoenix, Rage, Giving Hope Foundation, Phoenix Civic Movement and the Sivananda World Peace Foundation were all part of the event. To highlight the different religions of Indians who were brought to South Africa in 1860 on the SS Truro from Madras, the event showcased three different faiths in the opening prayer – represented by a priest, a pastor and a mualima (priestess).
Mount Edgecombe Arts and Culture Council chairperson Seelan Archary said the event was not only to commemorate indentured labourers, but also to bring the Indian community together as one. “The 1860 commemoration event is to pay respect to our forefathers and to remind our fellow countrymen that today is a very special day for us. November 16, 1860 is the most important date in the calendar for those of Indian descent.
“After the first ship docked in 1860, for the next 51 years we had 348 ships and 152148 people landed on our shores. We subsequently signed a contract called indenture, but that contract was not worth the paper it was written on because once our people were recruited in India by using nefarious ways, we were brought here to work on the fields,” said Archary.
The event also launched the South African chapter of the Grimitiya Centre, under the stewardship of Professor Bugsy Singh, who was also one of the keynote speakers at the event, along with Indian Consulate-General Dr Thelma John David. The centre aims to facilitate the documentation, research, writing and dissemination of the histories and lives of Girmitiyas in South Africa and is based in Umhlanga Rocks.
The Global Grimitiya’s Centre is a world organisation which was formed two years ago and is registered in Fiji. Grimitiya refers to indentured labourers.
“There are many chapters across the world, and the diasporas are in 18 countries. Some include Fiji, the Caribbean, Mauritius and others.
“I honestly think that within the diaspora, no one was more dehumanised as us in South Africa because racism was rampant,” said Singh.