South Africa: SA Indians Face Challenges of Identity


South African Indians are usually seen as a homogeneous community that presented a united front against apartheid. However, the democratic era and empowerment policies have seen a re-emergence of ethnic and sub-ethnic divisions as different groups seek identity in class, language and religion.

The date 16 November 2019 marks the 159th anniversary of the arrivals of indentured labourers in South Africa. The origin of South African Indians can be traced back to the agricultural labour requirements of colonial Natal in the mid-19th century.

It has been conventionally argued that the abundant indigenous Zulu labour in Natal was inadequate and unsuitable for sugar plantations. However, on the contrary, the local Zulus comprised a capable labour force and were "by no means disinclined to labour, or unwilling to render it to the planters, but upon their own terms and at their own times". (Daily News, 13/11/1960). The indentured labourers undermined the Zulus' bargaining power and this led to Indo-Zulu tensions, which persist and periodically resurface in public - even in the democratic era.

According to historian PS Joshi (1942) the indentured labour system was introduced by the British as a substitute for "forced labour and slavery [or what in the 21 st...

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