The Current State, Success And Future Of The Indian Diaspora in South Africa

Posted on January 26, 2012 in Specials

By Arunabh Saikia:

A report by a high-level committee set up the Indian government states that unlike the People of Indian Origin in North America and Western Europe, there is no real interest on the part of the Indian Diaspora in South Africa to acquire dual citizenship. In fact, they are actually weary that such a step would only jeopardize their relation with the African majority, who they fear, would accuse them of divided loyalties.

The above finding is significant since Non- Resident Indians are known to hold the state of dual citizenship in high esteem as it is considered to ensure the best of two worlds for the next generation and open a lot of avenues. The People of Indian Origin in South Africa are, in many ways, greatly different from the rest of the Indian diaspora scattered across the world. A saga of bonding and betrayal, of love and loss, the story of the Indian diaspora in South Africa, stretched over the past 150 years, is one worth listening to. From being indentured labourers, the subjects of an oppressive Apartheid policy of the local government to being major stakeholders in the political circle of the country, they have been through it all.

The majority of the modern Indian community in South Africa descends from people who came in the 1860s from India as indentured labourers. The labourers mainly spoke Tamil, Telegu and Hindi and most of them were Hindu, Christian or Muslim. They were imported because, the local Africans who were an economically self-sufficient lot were unwilling to work for the colonial forces and besides, the colonial authorities thought the hunter and the warrior local African was unsuitable for employed labour. The Indians turned out to be enterprising and soon they went to become a major workforce, instrumental for the sustenance of the lavish lifestyles of the British.

The Indian diaspora, since their arrival, were subjected to varying levels of racial and social discrimination. Gandhi, when he came to the country in 1893 to represent an Indian business firm in a lawsuit, was appalled by the gross discriminatory treatment meted out to the people of Indian origin. He helped the community offer organized resistance and is known to have played an active role in the formation of the Natal Indian Congress- a development that is widely known of have unified disparate groups of people of Indian Origin spread over the country.

Though the Indian Diaspora, in equal measures as their African counterparts, had borne the inhuman and degrading torture of the white regime in Apartheid’s infamous Robben Island, they were often viewed with suspicion by the local African population. Observers say that this resentment stemmed from envy; for the Indian Diaspora had overtaken the locals as far as economic self-sufficiency went and happened to hold positions of considerable commercial influence. But as would be admitted by the locals even now, this behavior was not based on sound logic as the People of Indian Origin in South Africa had suffered as much. There are written records which substantiate the fact that the Indian Diaspora was aggressively involved in the fight against the evil of Apartheid- something recognized by the very revered Nelson Mandela himself. But unfortunately, the representation of the Indian Community in the post-apartheid government was rather poor and that is believed to have disillusioned the community.

The local population’s opinion of the Indian Diaspora has often, over the past century and a half, somersaulted from the very positive to the extremely negative. Though the resentment has not always been based on sound grounds, the resentment towards a foreign community flourishing in their motherland is more than understandable. Amidst all of that, the Indian Diaspora and the local community, have by and large, fostered a relationship of mutual respect and tolerance, and the people of Indian Origin in South Africa are extremely proud South African Citizens, a notion that they wear happily on their sleeves.

The general belief is that the Indians have just added another colour to the myriad hues of cultures and values that South Africa stands for as a country. The Indian Diaspora in South Africa is aware of the ethos and culture they inherit on the basis of being Indian progeny and they stand by them with full vigour, while at the same time assimilating cultural elements of the land they call home. The success of the community and the future too is contingent on how they strike a balance and embrace the multi-cultural melting pot that South Africa is, and at the same time stay proud of their roots- a task that should not be tough for a community that has taken bad and good times with the same spirit and, yet, never lost the zest for life.