The Indian indenture system which was brought to South Africa was as oppressive as the African migrant labour system, KwaZulu-Natal Premier Sihle Zikalala said.
He was speaking at a commemorative event near Durban, where the first boatload of indentured Indian labourers for sugarcane plantations arrived on November 16, 1860.
Many of these labourers settled in the Mount Edgecombe District north of Durban, where the oldest temple in the country–Shri Mariammen Temple–is still popular for religious events.
The Premier also referred to the cruel practice of importing migrant Black African labour from neighbouring states as cheap labour for working in mines.
Addressing a large gathering at the Shri Mariammen Temple, Zikalala paid tributes to the people who followed those first arrivals and settled in South Africa despite the oppressive conditions rather than returning to India.
We honour the courage, sacrifice and struggle of those 1,52,000 women, men and children. They spawned 1.5 million proud South Africans of Indian heritage, he said.
Commending the community for building its own schools, temples, mosques and churches, Zikalala said the indigenous communities had worked side by side with the Indians to build a proud nation, united in its diversity.
We must continue to cherish the times we have come together and stood together, the Premier said as he recalled the contributions of leaders from both the African and Indian communities who had fought apartheid to achieve the democracy that Nelson Mandela ushered in 1994 after becoming the countrys first democratically-elected president.
That history of struggle has equipped us to deal with the present-day challenges that confront our sixth administration in a democratic South Africa. We must however always be looking forward, he said.
Zikalala also cautioned against complacency in his governments attempts to bring about social cohesion between communities.
We cannot take our unity for granted. Unity will not come about simply because we proclaim it. We must work hard for equity, social justice and ensuring that all our people have a place in the sun.
We want to be a united, non-racial, non-sexist, democratic and prosperous society, he said.
This anniversary of indenture must be an occasion for us to remember, reflect and restore. Let us use this historic moment in time to reach out to each other. Let us celebrate the triumph over the adversity of indenture and participate fully in the building of our non-racial democracy, the Premier added.
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