SA Indians ignorant of their roots
November 16 marks the 157th anniversary of the arrival of Indian indentured labourers to South Africa and the 100th anniversary of the abolition of indenture. speaks to youths keen to trace their lineage, while interviews a Durban family who are making i
YOUNG South Africans of Indian origin have limited knowledge of their indentured origins or ancestry.
Westville resident Saranya Devan, 22, a final-year clinical psychology student at the University of KwaZulu-Natal, bucks this trend.
She has a vast understanding of her family’s history, going back to their ancestral village in Madurai in the deep south of India. Others, however, could not pinpoint where their families came from.
Finance clerk Venita Naidoo, 26, of Yellowwood Park, expressed a deep desire to investigate her origins.
“I would love to be able to trace our family roots back to India if I had the resources.”
Her sentiments were echoed by civil engineer Jayren Soobramoney, 27, of Westville.
“It would be very interesting to find out more about my lineage. I have been saving money to make a trip to the motherland of my great-greatgrandmothers.”
He lamented that he has travelled to Europe and has just returned from Japan but has not yet been to India.
Third-year business science student at the University of Cape Town Uvika Matadin, 20, travelled to India as a child and remains fascinated with the subcontinent.
“For some time now I have wanted to trace my origins after hearing titbits from my grandparents.”
Devan was fortunate to have heard stories about indenture from her grandparents.
“My great- grandfather, Iyanna Theven Moodliar, joined hundreds of others who left India for a new life in South Africa.”
Her experience is different from Naidoo’s, who said she had not been told many stories about indenture.
“I guess it’s because the older generation in our family are no longer around.”
Matadin was saddened when asked to share her views on indenture. She said many Indians were running away from home and some were eloping.
“It was their opportunity to start a new life. They were promised a land of gold, but many false promises were made. It was inhumane because women were abused by their white masters, and when they arrived, they came to work in sugarcane fields and were treated as slaves.”
Soobramoney said he came from a family of storytellers and found it hard to distinguish fact from fiction.
He was, however, aware that his great-grandfather, Govindarajulu Naidu, had travelled with his parents as a six-yearold from Madras in 1896.
Asked about their thoughts on the 157th anniversary of the arrival of Indians in South Africa on November 16, Devan said: “While South Africa is my country of birth and my home; I also have emotional and cultural links with India. It is important to understand one’s roots. Therefore, Indians in South Africa must never forget that their forefathers came from India to sell their sweat to develop Natal.”
Soobramoney had stronger words, describing indenture as a time of oppression and white supremacy.
Reflecting on her cultural pride, Naidoo added: “I am very proud of our culture and what the Indian community has achieved in a foreign country in such a short time. We arrived here as slaves but somehow managed to build ourselves up.”
Turning to the fraught subject of identity, Matadin said she was unsure where she would be had it not been for indentured labourers crossing the Indian Ocean way back then.
“To an extent I am grateful that they were daring enough as I have been given an opportunity to be a South African instead of growing up in India and this is something special to me.”