Guests attending the panel discussion South African Indians – 150 years and Beyond at UKZN on September 29 celebrated the heritage of the Indian community whose beginnings in South Africa date back to the 1860s when they were brought to the country to work as indentured labour.

Great grand-daughter of Mahatma Gandhi and the Chancellor of the Durban University of Technology Mrs Ela Gandhi, and UKZN academics, Professors Hoosen Coovadia, Brij Maharaj and Dr Lubna Nadvi addressed a diverse audience on the history of the Indian community in South Africa and their meteoric rise in all sectors of society from humble beginnings.

Lecturer in Geography Professor Maharaj, presented a historical perspective on the Indian community and their resilience in making a success of their lives despite numerous hardships, and living conditions tantamount to slavery.

Mrs Gandhi extolled the virtues of Mahatma Gandhi and his philosophy of Satyagraha in a presentation that encouraged a revival of the concept in contemporary South Africa. She said the concept of Satyagraha should not be regarded as “passive resistance”, but rather an “active resistance” against discrimination. According to Ms Gandhi Satyagraha is about empowerment of individuals in working towards a society whereby people maintain themselves and are self-sufficient.

Professor Coovadia, an Emeritus Professor at UKZN and the Director of the HIV Management Cluster at the Reproductive Health and HIV Research Unit highlighted the role of Indian South Africans in politics, academia and business. What had always impressed Professor Coovadia was the integrated family lives among people of Indian origin which had been a strength that led to the growth and success of the community.

Dr Nadvi, a Lecturer in the School of Politics paid homage to great Indian South Africans whose contributions have led to the advancement of the community. Both Mahatma Gandhi and Mr Soofie Saheb (founder of the Soofie Saheb Mosque in Riverside) helped the Indian community break away from the indentured labour system which was akin to slavery. She spoke of the importance the Indian community placed on education. The Indian-African riots of 1949, while straining relations between these communities, had brought the Indian community closer. Her talk emphasised the significant political lead taken by Indians such Monty Naicker, Fatima Meer and Amad Kathrada and this community’s unity with African and Coloureds in the fight against apartheid.

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