A wall inscribed with the names of first batch of 200 Indian labourers, who arrived in South Africa 150 years ago, has been unveiled at the Freedom Park here by the Premier of Gauteng province.

The Wall of Names at Freedom Park, a national monument, bears names of all the 200 indentured labourers who arrived from India by ship on November 16, 1860 along with 75,000 South Africa’s national heroes who died during genocide and pre-colonial wars, two world wars and liberation struggle.

Unveiling the names, Gauteng Premier Nomvula Mokonyane called on South Africans to reinvent Indian freedom fighter Mahatma Gandhi’s non-violent approach.

“We need to resist and fight tendencies that seek to erode what make us human. We should discard traits that are anathema to public goodwill,” Mr. Mokonyane said.

He stressed arrival of Indians changed the history of South Africa. “The story of South Africa would never be complete without the chapter on the people of Indian descent.”

Speaking on the occasion, Indian High Commissioner to South Africa, Virendra Gupta said many of the first Indians came of their own accord in search of a life better than the impoverished one they had under their British colonial masters in India, only to find the same in South Africa.

“A lot were also rounded up and forced onto the ships to accept indenture as part of shared colonial exploitation that both our countries suffered,” Mr. Gupta said, adding India was proud of the way in which the settlers had brought their religion, culture, values and traditions with them.

“Indians have the ability to assimilate and evolve with the culture of the country that they find themselves in, and here they regard themselves as proud citizens of South Africa,” he added.

Speakers described the inhumane conditions under which the first Indians were forced to endure slave-like conditions in the sugar plantations. Some even committed suicide rather than face their families and friends after being humiliated by their colonial British masters.

But, most of them toiled their way out of dehumanising and demeaning situation of slavery to excel in different fields, building schools for their children, temples and mosques to ensure the survival of their religious practices despite draconian apartheid-era legislation.

Chairman of the 1860 Legacy Foundation, Judge Jody Kollapen, who was present along with his mother Tanga at the ceremony recalled how he was still in her womb when she joined the women who led a march to the Union Buildings in 1953 to protest anti-apartheid laws.

“Our forebears fought for that most basic of rights — the right to be human,” Mr. Kollapen said.

“But we would be erring if we claimed South African Indian freedom fighters such as Ahmed Kathrada and others as our own, because they sacrificed a lot for all South Africans, not just the Indian community.”

Ashwin Trikamjee, President of the South African Hindu Maha Sabha, said “some of the religious practices and traditions of South African Hindu community, which had been entrenched for 150 years, were recognised by some leaders in India as being even stronger than they were today in the motherland itself.”

Celebrations of the 150th anniversary will continue with events across South Africa, culminating on January 9 next year in a cricket match between India and South Africa.

A programme would also be organised in Durban, where the first ships arrived, in which Bollywood actors Shahrukh Khan and Priyanka Chopra will participate.

January 9 is the day when young lawyer Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi returned to India after practising for some years in South Africa to become the Mahatma.

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