Tamil beacon of hope in Durban dims
THE bright beacon of hope that once served the needs of a section of the central Durban Indian community and was home to victims of apartheid has begun to dim.
Built by the Tamil community, the prominent and almost 70-year-old Hindu Tamil Institute (HTI) in Cross Street, Durban, near the Durban Girls’ Secondary School, was officially opened on April 12, 1939 by Sri Sarvapalli Radhakrishnan.
He was the first vice-president of India (1952-1962) and its second president (1962-1967). His birthday is celebrated in India as Teachers’ Day on September 5.
The history of Tamil education in Durban is closely associated with the formation of the HTI, said Marimuthoo Vaypoorey Rajah, an honorary member of the South African Tamil Federation and the Natal Tamil Vedic Society.
Rajah, a retired principal, added that the HTI made a valuable contribution to the propagation of Tamil education and the Hindu religion.
Although it was initially known as the Hindu Tamil GovernmentAided Indian School, founded on February 27, 1914 and originally operated in Prince Edward Street, it eventually moved to the HTI building at 90 Cross Street.
Rajah said the building had a rich history and was one of the first Indian schools in the central business district. It was also where the then ML Sultan Technikon started its first classes.
“The school had 150 pupils. The lessons were held in English. But there were Tamil language classes in the afternoons,” said Rajah. “It was run as a school for years and closed in the late 1970s due to a drop in attendance as Indian families started to move into townships.”
One of the many men who played a prominent role in the history of the HTI as well as the Natal Tamil Vedic Society was Poonoosamy Ruthnam “PR” Pather, Rajah said.
He was the secretary of the HTI from 1918 to 1951. He was also the secretary of the Young Men’s Vedic Society, from 1916 to 1926.
“Pather was not happy with the idea of a split in the Tamil community,” Rajah said. “In 1951 he brought together the Young Men’s Vedic Society and the HTI, creating the Natal Tamil Vedic Society.
“Pather also helped other Indian organisations get land in Durban to start their own cultural organisations.”
In the 1970s, when the HTI school closed, the building stood vacant for two years.
The society then sold it to Professor Fatima Meer in 1982, who started the Institute for Black Research (IBR). Meer ran the Khanya Centre Clinic, high school and skills training centre from there, Rajah said.
“The high school gave youngsters expelled from school because of their political activities an opportunity to complete matric.
“Meer ran the IBR from 1982 to 1994, but after that the building was derelict. In 2004 the Vedic society bought the building from Meer and ran the Thiru Valluvar Centre for skills training. This initiative ended last year,” he said.
“In the early days the HTI served as a platform for Indian pupils to get a proper education. From these humble beginnings they grew to become prominent people in our society,” Rajah said.
“Later it helped them gain important skills that would secure them jobs so they could provide for their families. It also provided health care for people who could not afford private medical benefits.
“And it gave young political activists an opportunity to better themselves in trying times,” he said.
Rajah said the society had now decided to sell the 70-year-old building as it could no longer serve the Indian community, which had scattered.
He said the Vedic society decided it would be in the best interests of the organisation to sell. The proceeds would help run the Hindu Tamil Mansions, in Prince Edward Street, and Natal Tamil Vedic Society, in Carlisle Street.
“This building was the platform that created a foundation for bigger and better things. We hope it still continue to serve the community the way it has for 70 years.
“It has been a beacon of hope to our society. We do not have the funds to hold on to or refurbish the building, and we hope the new owners will do justice to it,” said Rajah. – email@example.com