Letter - As one travels from the quiet King Shaka International Airport, we pass lush fields of sugar cane, giving KwaZulu-Natal an atmosphere of prosperity.

This province’s economy has been and still is driven by the production of the much sought after “white gold”.

The agricultural aspects of preparing the land, growing and cutting the cane involved backbreaking, intensive labour from dawn to dusk, from those who came from India (1860 to 1911) and as indentured labourers - almost slaves. 

No one wanted to undertake this crippling work, so the plantation owners agitated for Indians to be brought from their motherland, then under the yoke of British colonialism.

Some of the reasons these people came were to escape the horrendous caste system perpetrated in the name of religion, or to repay debt incurred because of British punitive taxation to moneylenders (who held their family plots under bonds).

Others were lured by tales of Natal being the land of milk and honey.

They endured brutal treatment by most of the estate owners, who referred to them as “coolies”. 

The word “coolie” was common currency in those days, with the legislature even proclaiming “coolie” laws.

The terms of their contracts were not adhered to. 

They were promised a free passage to India, or a piece of land after five years of indentures.

However only about 50 received the promised piece of land. 

During their indentures, their dwellings on the sugar estates were mostly unsuitable for human habitation.

Indentured men outnumbered the female immigrants by four to one and naturally this led to jealously and moral lapses, especially when it came to man-woman romantic and intimate relationships.

Yet the ones who remained in South Africa, despite harassment and constant threats of deportment by successive union and apartheid governments, saved, scrimped and sacrificed to give their children a plate of food, housing and most importantly, education. 

They purchased pockets of land in Cato Manor Estate, Prospect Hall (Durban North), Clare Estate etc, only to find that most of these were snatched from them by the thieving legislation of the apartheid era, known as the Group Areas Act.

New beginnings were made in the townships of Chatsworth, Phoenix and other less coveted places in later years.

We owe a debt to these folk, badly treated, sometimes bamboozled and robbed, but who worked hard for their offspring.

Today many descendants are professional, serving the country in medicine, law, engineering, technology, social work, education, business and many other fields.

Some have gone overseas and are flourishing there. 

I know of two descendants, who are professors in their field at Birmingham and Harvard universities in the US.

There are many other distinguished descendants, who are thriving and adding value to the world. Many youth go to Johannesburg, Cape Town and other areas of South Africa for jobs, as finding employment in KZN can prove difficult due to governmental policies of employment equity.

Unfortunately, the curse of drugs have descended among some of the youth, destroying their lives, and which causes suffering to their families. 

Other ills experienced by youth are unemployment and the despondency caused by this as well as alcohol abuse (the bane of many communities).

Our ancestors wanted to preserve culture; therefore, they built temples, mosques and churches and endeavoured to preserve their mother tongues by inaugurating vernacular schools.

However, successive generations for economic and worldly reasons have lost touch with their roots. 

Indian South Africans are general law-abiding.

At the end of 2016, there were only 880 Asian/Indian prisoners in South Africa, comprising only 0.6% of the prison population.

In general, the men tend to be good fathers, who care for their children and have the least number of maintenance payment offenders in South Africa, even considering the population numbers.

Indian South Africans religious beliefs and philosophies place sharing, caring and serving others as signs of spiritual power.

Bar the odd incident, which is common among people even of the same race and ethnicity, Indians have lived in peace, tolerance and harmony with our fellow South African of every class, colour and creed.

Many Indians were incarcerated or lost the simple pleasures of youth or paid the ultimate penalty of death during the struggle against apartheid.

Our message - and this applies to all South Africa youth - is to stand strong and never waver. 

Always remain steadfast and remember the blood, sweat and tears of our ancestors.

Everyone is entitled to a place in the sun and to live in peace, harmony and goodwill with everyone else.

This is the message as we celebrate the 100th anniversary of the Great Madiba’s birth, a saintly man, who lived and breathed his values.

* Jerald Vedan and Previn Vedan. (Jerald is an attorney, conveyancer and notary at JD Vedan and Company and the president of the KZN Buddhist Forum and Previn is an attorney at JD Vedan and Company and a member of SHAYOMO, the Shallcross Youth Movement).

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