PEOPLE OF INDIAN ORIGIN (PIOs) IN SOUTH AFRICA: A BRIEF HISTORICAL OVERVIEW The arrival of Indians in South Africa spans over three centuries. While the presence of People of Indian Origin (PIOs) is popularly associated with the first shipment of indentured labour on 16th November 1860 during British colonialism, a substantial number were brought to South Africa by the Dutch during mid to late 17th century as slaves. Numerous write-ups on this historical trend relate times and figures that vary in accordance with the archival material that they sought. For instance, Jan van Riebeeck, the progenitor among European travellers who was the first to make the Cape sea route a halfway house to India, had as early as the 1650s brought Indians as slaves to South Africa. During the 17th and 18th centuries, over 50% of all slaves at the Cape were Indians from Bengal and South India. In another publication cited by SAHISTORY ONLINE information avers that the first shipment of Indian slaves were taken to the Cape in 1684. Between 1690 and 1725 thousands of people from the near and far eastern countries were captured by the Dutch to work as slaves in their colonies. Records reveal a number of at least 16 300 slaves, 80% of whom were recorded to be of Indian origin. By the 1880s they were totally integrated into the Cape Coloured and White communities. Such integration was made possible because of the international ban on slavery that initially received approval through Royal Assent on August 28, 1833. But it only took effect a year later, on August 1, 1834. However, total erosion of the concept of slavery in South Africa was protracted and achieved only by 1838, when the British colonists found themselves at odds with the Dutch in the Cape. By the mid-nineteenth century colonial expansionism was based on competition between west European countries vis-a-vis the number of territories that they could capture. A triple advantage emerged for each of these countries, in terms of them holding local populations captive to economic pursuit, together with their territories and their resources. Each of these served as the pillars of West European expansionism, emergent forms of global capitalism and money as a replacement to indigenous modes of exchange. They constituted emerging patterns of the west’s hegemonic place in the emerging European dominated world order, albeit rooted in the very beginnings of their exploratory travels and Christian missionary activities since the 15th century. Discovery of the Cape (now Western Cape Province in South Africa) by the Dutch, as a half-way-house to India in the seventeenth century, was not unnoticed by the British. Pioneer European travelers around Southern Africa found easy targets in the local Khoi-San populations - who were subsistence herders and hunter-gatherers respectively. Neither of these populations were militant enough to challenge either the Dutch or the British militarily. Port-Natal (now Durban) too became a target for occupation. Its subtropical climate was found suitable for the cultivation of sugar cane and other sub-tropical fruit and vegetable. The potential for export as well was promising. Hence, the port was settled for as an extension to the Cape for European seafaring needs. In this area however, European settlers began interfacing with Nguni groups, such as the Xhosa, Zulu and Swazi, that were militaristic and ready to mobilise and fight back. They were mainly from central African regions, and had were allegedly confronted by numerous challenging populations on their way from gthe northern parts to what is now South Africa. The first ship load of 352 Indians to Port Natal (now Durban), arrived in early November 1860 on the Truro. Since several had died on board and there prevailed fears of sicknesses among the passengers, the ship docked close to shore over several nights as a quarantine measure. It was on 16th November 1860 that the first batch disembarked as indentured labourers. More than 90% of them, from this ship and subsequent ones, were Hindus. Their growing numbers in the decade of the 1860s drew greater interest from the merchant classes in India. This gave rise to several of them travelling to Port Natal at their own cost, to test the market for their own entrepreneurial expansion. This segment of Indians is renowned in academic circles as “passenger Indians”. Among them the majority were from the state of Gujarat, with a mix of both Hindu and Muslim entrepreneurs. The primary purpose of the indentured labourers was to boost the sugar production in the colony of Natal. In 1860, prior to the introduction of Indian indentured labour, sugar cane production in Natal stood at 25 000 tons. Barely a year after the work of the Indian indentured labourers inputs, sugar cane production rose to the level of 100 000 tons. However, before going into further detail about the Indian contribution to the colonial economy in Natal, a brief overview of the Indian presence in Natal will be useful to the understanding of the racial dynamics that prevailed in Natal during the mid-19th century. It begs a fundamental question: Why bring indentured labour from India when there was ample availability of able bodied labour among economically active Africans? The answer here is threefold: • Africans were settled in their pastoralist-subsistence farming practices and were disinterested in integrating into the colonial money economy; • Among those Africans who agreed to work in estate and colonial owned farms, commitment to “contracts” had written by White employers had little meaning. Many simply left to return to their families and communities in order to escape the harsh treatment they received; and • Colonial administrators and private estate owners began making representation with higher authorities to seek labour from India, since 1851. Their understanding of the Indian farmer was one of humility and dependability, making them more sought after than captives from other population groups in their diverse colonies. Around this period word had went around to all the British colonies that low cost labour in India was becoming amply available. Thousands of Indian farmers were forced to abandon their properties through ruthless forms of exploitation by the British. The significant reduction of exports and exorbitant taxation of landowners, even when weather conditions forbid any harvests, forced them off their land to search for paid labour opportunities. Colonial administrators and private estate owners capitalized on this availability. Their purpose was to work especially in the sugar cane fields. Although the first shipment of indentured labour disembarked in Durban on 16th November 1860, representation for them began at least a decade earlier. Archival records show that the first recorded request for indentured labourers from India by the Natal Colonists appeared in a report in the Durban Observer, 17 October 1851. The call was made at a meeting of colonists and private estate owners who gathered at the Durban Government School Hall - where a unanimous motion calling for the introduction of Indian indentured labour was passed. In the same document, however, it was noted that at least four Indians were brought to Natal in 1849, but not as an organised batch of labourers. The Natal Government had to revise its legislation prior to the introduction of Indian workers in the colony. While economically active male labour was sought, women and children could not be entirely dismissed. But a maximum figure was placed on this. Revised legislation every ship load could have a maximum of 25% women and children. Ships were often unable to acquire such a number because people were not willing to chance a journey into the unknown. British attitudes too in India were unacceptably exploitative and manipulative, causing many to distrust them. Ships therefore had to delay their departure to Natal for days, if not weeks, before they could meet the quota of 25% women and children. Anthropologist Prof KN Sharma (IIT, Kanpur), once remarked in an undated paper that Indians had to be “conned, coerced and cajoled to get onto ships for British colonies”. Initial indentured contracts were for 3 years only, “signed” with thumb prints instead of modern day type signatures. But when many opted to return to India, contracts for new indentured labourers were extended to 5 years. Their contracts by The Natal Government stipulated that the wages for the first year was to be 10 shillings, 11 shillings for the second year and 12 shillings for the third year. This was in accordance with the Natal Act No.14 of 1859. A plethora of new legislation followed to cater for Indian indentured labourers. Their value to the Natal economy induced both insecurity and favourable comments from the White settlers. Sir Leigh Hullet for instance, a prominent sugar baron, once commented that the economy of Natal was built entirely by Indian labour. Others however, fought against increasing numbers of Indians coming to Natal because so many in their post-indentured phase outclassed their White counterparts as entrepreneurs. Hard work and rapid rise in economic standing among Indians from the latter part of the nineteenth century marked the beginnings of challenging minority group middle class. Mohandas Gandhi’s fight against British brutality gave Indians greater visibility against other racial groups in Natal and globally. Two outstanding and enviable achievements stood out among PIOs in Natal (and later in other parts of what is now South Africa): their expanding middle class and competitive spirit in all fields of life. These turned out to become irksome characteristics among the White ruling class. And it remains as such in post-apartheid South Africa among the black ruling elite. Ample evidence in this abounds in their use of the infamous Black Economic Empowerment (BEE) laws continues to marginalise the Indian working class. While opportunities during White political rule gave a significant number of Indians ample opportunity to become upwardly mobile, it continued to constrain the majority of Indians (more than 500 000: around 50% of total PIO population) economically, politically and socially. The situation remains this way under Black political domination. South Africa is a rare case of applying affirmative action policies for its majority Black population. Affirmative action is normally applied in situations that require upliftment of minority groups. After 160 years in South Africa (since 1860), most Indians still have a long and arduous climb out of the lower rungs of economic hardship.