Durban - TIRED of waiting for the government to honour the 1860 indentured labourers, a group of their ancestors have decided to do something themselves.
The Sites of Conscience Collective is a group that looks to preserve historical sites in the province.
One of their members said they planned to plant a tree in the vicinity of Addington Hospital, the area earmarked for the 1860 monument.
Kiru Naidoo, a member of the Sites of Conscience Collective, said the group was encouraging people who lived in the areas where these indentured labourers first settled to bring soil from the area for the planting ceremony.
Last week, the eThekwini Municipality executive committee took a decision to return to the province R4.4 million that had been allocated for the monument.
It was to have been built at the entrance of the Durban harbour.
Initially, R10 million had been set aside for the project. Some of the money was spent on artists’ drawings, architect’s fees and a sod-turning ceremony. But the monument was never built.
The KwaZulu-Natal government has now decided to spearhead the project.
Naidoo said: “On November 16, we will mark the 159th anniversary of the arrival of the first Indian indentured workers in Durban. We will plant an indigenous tree in the spot where they first landed. The same spot where the monument was expected to be built.”
He said the organisation was never in favour of a monument.
“We wanted something more sustainable and natural. That’s why we will plant a tree.
“We also plan to celebrate the 160 and 161-year anniversaries but we are still deciding what we will do.
“We thought about planting 160 Bayan trees, the tree through which Buddha was said to have achieved enlightenment.”
Naidoo is a fifth-generation descendant and is the spokesperson for the Department of Public Works.
He also works, in a personal capacity, as a historian, author and environmental activist.
He said: “Our toil is in this soil and we stake our claim to it.”
Selvan Naidoo, curator of the 1860 Heritage Centre, hoped that people would heed the call for a handful of soil from the plantations and sugar barracks from across the province.
“This would bring our history from all stretches to one site,” he said.
Advocate Zandile Qono-Reddy, another member of the collective, said the indenture narrative needed to be broadened to embrace the full spectrum of KwaZulu-Natal.
“We must keep in mind that Africans also laboured on the sugar plantations, including the Amatonga, who trekked from Mozambique.”
Meanwhile, opposition parties have criticised the city’s decision to hand back the 1860 monument money.
Yogiswarie Govender of the DA called for a full report into what caused the delays and for consequence management to be implemented.
“For far too long the city manager has failed to hold officials to account for poor work ethic and failed implementation of projects.
“This particular project, which the city had years to plan and implement, is a slap in the face to the Indian community, who wanted to commemorate the contribution of the indentured labourers in South Africa.”
Jane Naidoo, an IFP councillor, said it was a dismal failure on the part of the ANC-run metro.
“It is catastrophic given the context of South Africa’s historical racial pain; 2010 saw the celebration of 150 years since the Indian arrival and a subsequent decision by the province to honour Indians of indenture.
“The province has squandered the opportunity to foster unity and healing.”
Councillor Jonathan Annipen of the Minority Front said: “We are disgusted that nothing has been done and the grant has to be returned to the provincial government.
“The city has absolutely no regard for persons of Indian origin. We have lost an opportunity to show gratitude to our ancestors who gave their lives for freedom.
“The ANC will never be forgiven for this travesty. Especially those of Indian origin who will be recorded as people who sold the heritage of their forefathers to line their pockets.”