Sunday, September 14, 2014


(INDENTURED LABOURERS) INTRODUCTION: When indentured labourers arrived in batches in the then Natal Colony from India since November 16 1860 to about 1911, they were recruited by sugar cane farmers to work at various sugar farms on the North Coast, South Coast and around the port of Durban. Some of the sugar farms the indentured labourers toiled in were at Darnall, Gledhow, Mtubatuba, Stanger, Doronkop, Melville, Felixton, Tongaat, Verulam, Ottawa, Mount Edgcombe, Shakaskraal, Inanda, Reunion, Isipingo, Illovo, Renishaw, Umzinto, Esperanza, Port Shepstone, and Umzimkulu. One hundred and fifty years later, most of the descendants of the indentured labourers have migrated from the sugar estates to the urban areas of Durban, Pietermaritzburg, Stanger, Tongaat, Verulam Port Shepstone, Umzinto, and other areas. Many of the sugar estates are also now not in existence any longer. However, there are still many people who work and live on some of the sugar estates. In order not to forget these people of the soil on the 150th anniversary of the arrival of indentured labourers from India, senior political journalist and editor, Marimuthu Subramoney, visited some of the sugar estates on the North Coast and the South Coast to report on their lives today. Here is Subramoney's report....... .
New Guelderland
"I worked and toiled in the sugar fields here for 36 years, following in the footsteps of my parents and my grand-parents." This is how 63-year-old Mrs Muniamma Perumal described her life in the New Guelderland sugar estate, situated about seven kilometres to the north of KwaDukuza. New Guelderland is one of the sugar estates where Indian indentured labourers and their descendants had made huge sacrifices to build a home for themselves and their families since arriving in the then Natal Colony 150 years ago. The early indentured sugar labourers were first employed by the New Guelderland sugar estate in the 1870s when the New Guelderland sugar estate and mill was purchased by the Stewart family, who were from Scotland. The sugar estate was orginally established in the late 1850s by a group of Dutch settlers, led by T C Collenbrander. The name New Guelderland originated from the town of Gelderland in Holland where the Dutch settlers came from. The Indian indentured labourers were recruited from India and other local sugar estates because the Steward family found that the Indian workers were hard-working and most reliable. When I visited the estate I found Mrs Perumal sitting with some friends at a small settlement, known as New Town, where just over 100 families had been provided with accommodation by the sugar estate. The two-room brick houses are clearly visible when one travels on the N2 just past KwaDukuza and when visitors and golfers drive to the Princes Grant Golf Course. The little village is inhabited mainly by those who have retired and a few employees of the sugar estate. The village boasts a small temple and a church for the cultural and religious needs of the community. "I was born in the sugar barracks near the old main road along with with my three brothers and one sister," said Mrs Perumal. "At that time there were only about 200 families working and living in the sugar estate. I only went to school up to standard one and at the age of 12, I began working in the sugar fields. I remember we used to get up very early in the morning, pack our lunch of mealie rice and dhall, and then walk to the fields. We used to weed and clean the fields from 6am to 2pm. We were only given 10 minutes break at 10 o clock and then at twelve o clock we used to have lunch. "It used to be hard work but we never really thought of the hardships because our family needed the few extra cents that we were earning. I used to get about thirty cents a day." Mrs Perumal said when she was only 18-years-old, her parents arranged her marriage with some one from the same estate. "After I got married I continued to work in the fields. I can remember that I had worked in the fields for 36 years before I stopped," she said. Mrs Perumal and her husband have four children - three boys and a girl - and ten grand-children. "We like this place because this is where we were born, grew up and lived all our lives. My grand-parents, who came from India, and my parents also worked and lived here. But now we are worried because the Stewarts have sold most of the sugar estate for housing and other development. "We have been promised that we will be given security and we will be allowed to stay here as long as we live. I just hope that we will not have to be worry about a home during our old age." Another person who was born, worked and lived in the New Guelderland sugar estate is 72-years-old Munien Ramsamy. His grand-parents, Allen Pillay and Wolvia Amma, came from the district of Kannchipurman in Tamil Nadu. His father, Ramsamy Munien, was born in New Guelderland. Mr Munien's three brothers and three sisters were also born in the sugar estate. Two of his brothers and one sister have passed on. Mr Munien, who has three sons and four daughters, has worked for the New Guelderland sugar estate for 47 years as a field hand, labourer in the building department and a supervisor. He retired in 1994. "My family has worked very hard in this place. My grand-parents, parents and my brothers and sisters know no other place than New Guelderland. The younger generation have moved to other areas but we, the older generation, love this place. One of my sisters lives next door to me," said Mr Munien. Mr Munien said although life was tough in the old days, living in barrack-type tin houses and surviving on food rations, there was still a lot of "fun and laughter". "I remember as young boys we used to play football in the fields and used to walk to Stanger on Saturday evenings to watch MGR and Sivaji films on the big screen. We used to look forward to going to Stanger because the movies brought us a great deal of relief, pleasure and enjoyment," he said. "The old days were really wonderful. There were about 200 families here and all of us lived like brothers and sisters. One of the past-times we especially enjoyed was fishing. Every family used to walk to the beach to do fishing whenever they had any spare time. In my retirement years I miss all my friends of the early years." Another long-time resident of New Guelderland is 74-year-old Mr Sivaperumal Daddy Munsami, whose grand-father also came to South Africa as an indentured labourer. His grand-parents first worked at nearby Kearsney before moving to New Guelderland. His father, Sivaperumal Munsami, also worked as a labourer at the sugar estate and he recalls living in the tin barracks with his four brothers and four sisters. "I worked in the fields for 12 years as a young man and being paid about R9 a month. After that I moved to various jobs and then worked as a time clerk from 1962 to 2001 when I retired. In the early days we used to be given food rations of mealie meal, dhall, flour, rice, pumkin, and potatoes every week. With this we had to survive. We had no luxuries such as meat," he said. Mr Munsami married in 1954 and has five children - four boys and a girl - and a number of grand-children. "This place where we are now living in is very peaceful and we want to continue to live here until the end of our lives. We have been told that the area has been sold for new development but the New Guelderland management has promised us that the place where we are staying will remain in our names for as long as we live." He said although he and many others did not have the chance of attaining any education, a number of the new generation had the opportunity of attending primary school in the area and many of them had climbed the ladder over the years to become teachers and doctors. "Today in South Africa we must realise that education is all important. Our parents, although they did not have any means encouraged their children to ensure that their children and grand-children should obtain an education. "I would urge our young people today to show more respect for their parents and to ensure that they attain a decent education. Without tertiary and higher education, the children of today will be nothing," he said. Currently there are only about 12 Indian-origin people who work for the sugar estate - three maintenance personnel, one administration clerk, one driver and six domestics. The sugar estate, which has been in the hands of the Stewart family for 140 years, will in the not too distant future give way to the new Blythedale development. According to the agricultural director of the estate, Mr Rodger Stewart, the Indian-origin former workers and those current employees who are resident on the estate would not be displaced. They would be provided with alternative accommodation that would blend in with the new development. Darnall A short distance away from New Guelderland is the village of Darnall, another area where our forefathers and mothers were taken to work on the sugar estates. Here I found two magnificent religious institutions, believed to have been built 120 and 106 years ago, are stately reminders of the early settlement of indentured labourers in this small sugar mill village on the KwaZulu-Natal north coast. The Shree Siva Subramanian Alayam and the Darnall Baptist Church were built by indentured labourers who moved to the village from surrounding sugar estates to work at the sugar mill in the late 1880s and early 1890s. These heritage sites stood out large and proud. The temple, initially built of reed and mud, at first served not only as a place of prayer for the indentured labourers and their families but also as a meeting point for all the people. The Baptist Church, built in the early 1900s, also served as a prayer and meeting place for the Indian Christians. The early Indians first lived in reed and mud houses that they built themselves. Then they were housed in one-room barrack-type homes with communal toilets. They had to fetch water from the nearby Nonoti River for personal use. Their homes were first known as Mill or Down Barracks. Then as their numbers grew to about 200, they were provided with accommodation to what became known as Top Barracks and Temple Street. In the 1960s, the sugar mill, now owned by Tongaat-Hullett, demolished the barrack-type homes and provided the workers with slightly better quality accommodation with running water and electricity. "Initially all our grand-parents and parents worked only as labourers at the mill," said 75-year-old Mr Paul Arthur, who is the chairperson of the heritage Baptist Church. Mr Arthur retired as a school principal about 10 years ago after being in the teaching profession for 42 years. His grand-father, Guriah, came from the district of Vizakapatnam in South India. His father, Attiah Guriah, worked as a cook for the Darnall mill manager. As time passed his father became known as Arthur and this name over time became the family name. "I must tell you the conditions in the early stages were not pleasant for our forefathers," said Mr Arthur. "But over time our people rose from mere labourers to other jobs at the mill as clerks and machine minders. The situation has changed to such an extent today that the mill manager is of Indian-origin." Another son of Darnall is 70-year-old Ayapan Nair, who is the current treasurer and former chairman of the Shree Subramaniam Alayam Temple. His grand-father, Krishnan Nair, was one of the early indentured labourers who worked on sugar estates on the north coast. His father, Subramoney Krishna, first worked for the Huletts Sugar Mill in Empangeni before being transferred in 1939 to Darnall. Mr Nair and his five brothers and two sisters were born in Darnall. He started work at the Darnall Sugar Mill in 1957 as a boiler attendant and retired recently as a supervisor after 42 years of service. "I was born here and my whole life is here," said Mr Nair. "I have been a member of the temple from the age of 10." The temple is believed to be the second oldest Hindu temple in South Africa after the Shree Emperumal temple in Mount Edgcombe. The temple and the Baptist church have been upgraded and developed over the years. The temple complex also comprises a small Hanuman shrine and a modern hall, while the Baptist church also boasts a hall in its complex. Both Mr Arthur and Mr Nair point out that although people belonged to different language groups and religions, all of them lived as "one big family" in the early days. "I can recall the days when as children we used to partake in all religious festivities without any worry in the world," said Mr Arthur. For his part, Mr Nair said: "We regarded everyone as our family. There was no such thing as one person being a Christian, Hindu or a Muslim. We were one big family." Both Mr Arthur and Mr Nair recalled that there were a number of families who had made significant contributions to community life in Darnall over the decades. They included the Gokools, Munian Govenders, Sarvana Moodleys, Nadas Govenders, Nagoors, Davids, P D Johns, P.K. Samuel, and Murugans. The early Indians in the village did not only concentrate on religious and community life but also made sure that their children were provided with education opportunities. The first English school was started at the Baptist Church. Today, the community prides itself in having two primary schools and one secondary school. "Education has played a very important part in the upliftment of the people of Darnall," said Mr Arthur. "Our small community has not only produced many teachers and principals, but also lawyers, doctors, accountants and business people. Many of our young people have moved out to greener pastures to other parts of the province and Johannesburg. Some have also migrated to other countries." Most of the Indian-origin residents in Darnall today are either retired or work outside. Only a small number of people still work at the Mill. Another old-time resident is 74-year-old Marimuthu Naicker. We found Mr Naicker spending time with other local pensioners at the Darnall community centre. A former herd boy, Mr Naicker retired from the sugar mill as a supervisor after working for 47 years. "We must really be proud of our forefathers because had it not been for them we would not have sugar in South Africa," said Mr Naicker who was born in nearby New Guelderland and worked as a herd boy in neighbouring Nonoti when he was 10-years-old. "When we observe the 150th anniversary of the arrival of our forefathers we must not forget the sacrifices they made. It is only because of their efforts that we have made tremendous advancements in this country," said Mr Naicker, who has 15 grand-children and four great-grand-children. "We have come a long way here in Darnall. Till this day we are all one here. There's no difference between us whether we are Christians, Hindus or Muslims. We still share food and curries. I hope this type of life will continue but I don't know. "The modern life is taking its toll on the type of life we enjoyed in the early days," said Mr Naicker. Illovo From the North Coast, I visited several sugar estates on the South Coast where descendants of indentured labourers still work and live in. One of the best known estates I visited was historical village of Illovo which is tucked away at the bottom of several hills about six kilmotres from the south coast town of Kingsburgh. Here more than 140 years after Indian indentured labourers arrived to work at the Illovo sugar estate and set up home, there are still about 100 families or about 500 descendants of the early Indians who have made this little village their permanent home. As soon as you enter the village you are immediately transported to an era when Indian sugar labourers, despite their hardships, developed a close-knit community through their religion, culture, song, and dance. At the entrance to the village, two temples and a church greet the visitor. A short distance away is the primary school where some children and grand-children of the early workers obtained their schooling. A number of the original sugar barracks homes still survive alongside renovated and improved ones and newly-built and modern houses. A little distance away in an area called Illovo Heights is situated the main Illovo Maha Vishnu Temple, which has its origins some 140 years ago. When I arrived in the village, I bumped into an energetic and sprightly man, 73-year-old retired estate worker Rangasamy Gounden. The talkative Gounden, who was a Theerookutoo (six foot) dancer, stage performer and comedian for more than 50 years, took me on a tour of the village before inviting me to his humble home. His sitting room was adorned with photographs of his parents, grand-parents, other family members and two large portraits of legendary Tamil actors, M G Ramachandran and Sivaji Ganesan. "I was born here in Illovo in a place called Mill Barracks along with four brothers and two sisters," said Mr Gounden. He did not attain any schooling because at that time there were no schools in Illovo. He had to make do only learning to speak his Tamil mother tongue and being involved in temple and cultural activities. He says his grand-parents came from a village near Madras(now Chennai) in Tamil Nadu. "I started work as a field-hand in the sugar estate at the age of 15. My first salary was one pound-two-and-six(two rand and 25 cents) a month. "I worked as a field hand for 20 years and then also cut cane. Thereafter I worked in the nursery and finally in the painting department. In all I worked for Illovo for more than 50 years," he said. According to Mr Gounden, the early Indian workers were first housed in a nearby village called Karridene before being moved to the Tin Barracks and Top Barracks at Illovo. The Indian workers were housed in the current village about 100 years ago. The Illovo sugar estate was first started by the Pierce family before being sold to the current owners, C G Smith. Most of the sugar estate workers were mainly Tamil and Telugu speaking with a sprinkling of Hindi-speaking people. Most of the people worked as labourers on the estate and at the Sugar Mill. "After the mill was moved to Eston about 30 years ago, the company established a syrup plant in its place. Some of the people moved to Eston while others were taken to work at a sugar mill in Cool Air, near Pietermaritzburg," he said. "Today there are only very few people working at the Syrup plant. The company has sold the houses to its former workers and this village is now under the jurisdiction of the Ethekwini municipality. "Illovo is mainly famous for its cultural and religious activities. I took part in many six foot dances and was also a stage performer and comedian. We also took part in the eistedfodds and shows in and around Durban and many other areas." Another resident who worked for the Illovo company for more than 40 years is Shunmagum Naidoo. Born in an area called Thata Place in Illovo in 1939, Mr Naidoo's grand-parents came from the former Madras Presidency, parts of which is now in the current state of Andhra Pradesh in south India. His father was also born in Ilovo. "My four brothers, one sister and I were all born here. Now I only have one sister who is still alive. Four of my elder brothers have all died. "I started work at the age of 17 as a tea boy and I remember my first salary was six pounds(R12). When I retired five years ago I was earning about R6 000 a month," he said. Mr Naidoo, who has three sons and one daughter, said in addition to the religious and cultural activities that kept the people together, they also used to be involved in football. Some of the football teams that came out of Illovo were Young India, Pirates, Blue Birds, United, and Workshop. There were a number of leaders who contributed to the social, religious, cultural, sporting and educational development of the community. They included K. Velayudan, who came from Kerala in India; Muthoo Gounden; Veerasamy Chetty; Latchappa; Chinna Naidoo; Kamsal Archery; V M Reddy and P.A. Naicker. Despite the hardships and poverty, the Illovo community managed to produce a number of teachers, three doctors and a number of business people. "You know we also had two political activists in our village. They were C S Naidoo and Aniff Omar, who were forced to flee Illovo because of harrassment by the police. Mr Naidoo went to Canada and Omar went to Port Elizabeth. "Both of them have visited us recently and have made contributions to the activities of our temples and cultural life," said Mr Naidoo. A young resident of Illovo is 46-year-old Vijaya Shunmagum. Like other residents, Ms Shunmagum says she wouldn't want to trade Illovo for any other place. "This is the best place to live in. We all are very united and we still share food with our neighbours," she says. According to Shunmagum, the entire village was very involved spiritually and culturally. She, her brother and sister-in-law have formed the Sri Saraspathy Ragam and they perform at funerals, ceremonies and other prayer functions. "We are all keeping alive the rich cultures and traditions of our forefathers who have sacrificed so much for us." Further south, about 30km away and near Scottburgh, is the little settlement of Renishaw, which is owned by the Crookes family. I travlled along a corrugated road for about four kiometres from the N2 highway to find the little village. Driving into the village one has to pass the Marantha Church, which was first built of reed by Indian workers, and a short distance away the Sri Saiva Sithantha Sungum temple. There are about 27 Indian families living in the company-built two-room houses. Most of the heads of the families are retired, while only about eight still work for the company. In the early days more than one thousand descendants of indentured labourers used to work and live in Renihaw. "Culture and religion has been an important part of the lives of my forefathers in this village," said 67-year-old Chinsamy Moodley, who retired in 2007 after working for Crookes Bros for 37 years. "My grand-parents, who were from India, and my parents first lived in an estate called Colin Cotry before moving into Renishaw. I remember in Renishaw we stayed in an area called Mill barracks. But in 1976 the area was hit by huge floods and there was a lot of damage. "The company moved us to this new place and also helped us to move the temple to its present site," he said. Mr Moodley said his six brothers and four sisters were born at Renishaw. Three brothers are now late. The rest of his siblings live in the Umzinto-Park Rynie area and in Durban. "I remember when I first started work I was paid three pounds(R6) a month and given ration of mealie rice, flour, oil, dhall and salt. My father used to earn about four pounds(R8) a month." Moodley and his wife, Muniamma, who was also born in Renishaw, have three sons and two daughters who are all professionals. "Despite our family working in Renishaw and other Crookes family estates for more than 100 years, we have no permanency here," says Mrs Moodley. "We are paying rent. We hope this house will be given to us so that we can live in peace in our retirement years." Another resident, Mrs Devi Govender, 58, whose family also worked in Renishaw for more than 100 years, said Renishaw was their historical home. Mrs Govender, a widow, said her grand-parents and parents had all worked in the sugar estates owned by Crookes Bros for more than 100 years. "We all live here as a family and help one another in times of need. The temple is a meeting place for us and we have a service once a week," she said. One of the residents still working for Crookes Bros is 59-year-old Michael Pillay. His father, Kanabathy Pillay, and mother, Kamachee, had worked in the fields and in the mill as labourers for more than 52 years each. His grand-parents, who had come from India, had also worked for Crookes Bros. Mr Pillay, who is in charge of the Marantha Church, said they would be celebrating the 100th anniversary of the establishment of the church in 2012. "We were told that the early workers first built the church with reed and mud. Later it was upgraded with wood and iron and about 80 years ago, it was built with block. "We hope to have a grand centenary celebration in two years time," said Mr Pillay. Other estates near Renishaw where Indian indentured labourers toiled to make a home for themselves and their families included Ellingham and Ocean View. Esperanza About 20 kilometres away from Renishaw is the little village of Esperanza. Situated on a hilltop about six kilometres to the south of the town of Umzinto, Esperanza was one of the earliest settlements in the area where Indian indentured labourers worked and built a community. The village was established in the 1870s after the pioneer sugar farmers, Reynolds Brothers, closed down two mills at Old Esperanza, about 10km away, and at Umzinto to build a new factory on the banks of the nearby Umzinto River. The early indentured labourers who worked in the sugar estates at Old Esperanza and Umzinto were moved to the new village. It was the start of a community that for more than 90 years boasted of being rich in culture, language, education, sport and religion. At the height of its rich history, the village boasted three temples, a primary school, and sporting, social, womens', and musical clubs. When one enters the village today one is greeted by an atmosphere of quietness and silence. The colour, inter-action of the people, and vibrancy of the past is now for all intents and purposes a mere memory. "We now only have 20 Indian-origin families, 10 of them who worked for the company, living in the village," said 65-year-old Mr Michael Pillay, who retired in 2005 after working for Reynold Brothers, C G Smith and Illovo Sugar for 45 years. "At one time before the sugar mill was moved in 1952 to Pongola on the North Coast we used to have more than 500 families, making up about 6 000 people, living here. Although we were very poor and worked long hours in the fields and in the factory, we made time to promote our languages, cultures, traditions, sport and education," he said. The early indentured labourers and their descendants were first housed in wood and iron houses. Later the company built block houses. Mr Pillay lives in one of these houses which he purchased and renovated over the past few years. He lives in the house with his wife, a daughter and grand-children. Three of his other daughters have moved out of the village. Mr Pillay, being one of the few active people still in the village, takes care the Shree Vishnu, Shree Muruga and the Mariammen Temples. "We continue with all the prayer services at the temples in order to keep our traditions and our cultures alive," he said. He said unfortunately the Esperanza Government Aided Indian Primary School had been closed down sometime ago and the few children in the village attend schools in Umzinto. He said some of the best-known pioneers who helped to build the social, cultural, sporting, and edcuational life of Esperanza included Aboo Sirdar, G. Nynah Naidoo, E. Thirajaloo Naidoo, Karupanna Moodley, Ganas Moodley, Kandasamy Naidoo, Kullapa Govender, Mathooray Pillay, M.Angu Pillay, Soobramoney Raju, Narainsamy Naidoo, Govmarsamy Padaychee, Sangu Govender, Arumuga Sidar, C. Patchappa Govender, Erappa Sirdar, Karupanna Moodley, Latchman Sirdar, Saligram Sirdar, C.T. Singh, Chaithram and the Paliam Brothers. The first principals of the school that was built in 1930 was D. Ramaser and Beethasie Maharaj. Many Esperanza residents distinguished themselves in many areas of life and produced scores of teachers, school principals, lawyers, doctors, and even passive resisters, who took part in the passive resistance initiated by Mahatma Gandhi in 1906. One of the residents who distinguished himself in athletics was Kanna Rao, who became one of the first Indians to participate in the Comrades Marathon in 1937. Another of the original residents who still lives in the village is 88-year-old Visvanathan Pillay. Born in Esperanza, Mr Pillay worked for the company for 40 years. He and his wife, Dhanabaigium, 87, live in one of the original houses with his youngest son and daughter-in-law. His eldest son, Ganas Pillay, said his grand-father, John Angu Pillay, had come from India to work on the sugar estates and for the Reynolds company. "We had a very good life here in Esperanza," he said. "I remember the therookuthoo(six foot) dances that we used to attend for the whole night and the football matches we used to have here every Sundays. We had some of the best footballers coming out of this village. Our Esperanza team won a number of tournaments in the local competition in Umzinto." Most of the people from Esperanza have re-settled in areas such as Umzinto, Park Rynie, Merebank and Chatsworth. Eighty-year-old Mrs Pushpavathie Naidoo, who was born in the village, remembers Esperanza as a place where life was tough but the people lived as a "united, peaceful and happy community". Mrs Naidoo, a former nurse, said her grand-father, Subbiah Pillay, was one of the people who came on the first ship, S S Truro, in 1860. "The sacrifices made by our forefathers has made it possible for all of us to make tremendous advances in all areas of life," she said. Her father, Moonsamy Pillay, took part in the Passive Resistance campaigns started by Mahatma Gandhi. "The young people of today must understand that our forefathers persevered under great difficulties and they too must also strive in the same way. They must enter the future with faith and confidence. We at Esperanza used to work, live and play under the philosophy that 'truth conquers'," she said. Mrs Naidoo, who came from a family of eight sisters and four brothers, has a huge family of her own. She has four sons(two are late) and three daughters; 19 grand-children; 18 great-grand-children. About 20km from Esperanza along the coast is the village of Sezela, which was established after the sugar mill was built in 1915. The mill was first owned by Reynold Brothers before being purchased by C G Smith and finally by Illovo Sugar. One of the old residents who was born in the Sezela Barracks is 89-year-old Poinamma Pillay, whose father had three wives and 11 children - three daughters and eight sons. "We all grew up in Sezela barracks where we had to share communal toilets and bathing facilities with other neighbours," she said. "It was a hard life and my grand-father, who was from India, didn't want me to attend school. He was of the view that even if girls get educated they must finally get married and serve their husbands. "I was married at the age of 11 to my husband who was from the Beneva sugar estate nearby. We stayed in Beneva for some time before we moved to Lower Sezela and Esperanza. "I had ten children - four boys and six girls," she said. Her husband, two sons and three daughters are now late. She now lives with a daughter in the New Delhi area of Sezela. Another field hand and sugar factory worker who grew up in Sezela barracks is 74-year-old Chellan Chinappen. He retired in 1997 after working for Illovo Sugar for 44 years. He was part of a large family of four brothers and three sisters. His father, Chinnakanu, and mother, Muniamma, moved to Sezela barracks from the Nagoli sugar estate when he was about 10- years-old. He attended the local Sezela State Aided Indian School and started work as a field hand at the age of 15. "Life was very tough for all of us where we all had to live in compounds made of wood and iron and had to use communal toilets and water," he said. "It was only sometime later that the company built the block houses. But we still did not have inside toilets and water. For many years we had to stand in long queues to use the toilets and bathing facilities. It was not good. "Only after many representations and petitions that the company thought we deserve our own toilets, water and electricity," said Mr Chinappen. Mr Chinappen, who was the chairman of the Sezela Barracks Indian Council for 20 years, said in the early days about 20 000 people lived in the Sezela Barracks, Lower Sezela, Upper Sezela, Bazley and Brake Barracks. Like other sugar estates, Sezela residents had also built their own temples and churches. "Today there are only about 200 families living in the old Sezela barracks and in the recently-established New Delhi area," he said. A number of young people have followed in the footsteps of their parents and work at the Sezela sugar mill as technicians, clerks and managers. One of the young men working at the mill is 42-year-old Sidney Murthy. He has worked at the mill for the past 17 years and lives in one of the original block houses, which he has improved and renovated. "My father was born here and my three sisters and I were born here. My grand-father came from India," he said. "I have purchased this house from the company and we love this place because it is quiet, peaceful and right next door to the beach. "A number of outside people have purchased property here after the old residents moved out," he said. The remaining Sezela residents still send their children to the local Sezela Primary School and maintain and promote their cultures and traditions through the local Sezela Siva Subramaniam Temple and three churches. Like other sugar estates - Sezela had also produced its fair amount of teachers, doctors, lawyers, business people. Most of the young people have migrated to other areas - especially Durban and Johannesburg. Nonoti While the vast majority of the descendants of indentured labourers have moved to urban areas, a significant percentage had become farmers on the north coast and south coast. Many of these farmers have, however, were forced to move to urban areas since the early 1990s because of the high rate of crime and the murders of many farmers. The worst affected areas are Inanda, near Verulam, areas near KwaDukuza, Tongaat on the north coast and Umzinto, Umkomaas and Port Shepstone on the south coast. However, one of the areas where about 100 descendants of former indentured labourers still farm is the Nonoti and San Souci region, situated north of KwaDukuza. The two areas have historically been farmed by former indentured labourers and their descendants since the early 1900s. "It has been an uphill battle for our grand-parents, parents and for my generation," said 94-year-old Lal Bahadur Moon Ramlakan, one of the doyens of the farming fraternity in the Nonoti-Stanger region. "But we made it despite all the hardships and the discrimination," said a sharp-witted Mr Ramlakan. His grand-parents came from the Kanpur region of Uttar Pradesh in north India and worked for French farmers on the North Coast. His father also worked on a sugar estate in the Umhlali region. He remembers as a young boy he and his four brothers and five sisters moved to the San Souci area where his father became a small-scale sugar and vegetable farmer. "My father, who died in 1947, built a school in the area and all of us and other children had our early learning at this school," he said. "After I completed my schooling I went into sugar and tomato farming at first on 40 acres of land. Thereafter I purchased another 20 acres. Farming and business has been my life until only recently." In the early days Mr Ramlakan and other Indian farmers from the area supplied sugar cane to the Melville Sugar Mill and later the Darnall Sugar Mill. "In those days we did most of the work ourselves. We enjoyed very good relations with the African people and I remember that my father used to host Chief Albert Luthuli and other African leaders. "My father imbued in us the philosophy of live and let live. He wanted everyone to be treated equally. My father used to say we must leave the world a little better than what we find it in. I followed this philosophy all my life." Other pioneer farmers in the two areas include the Ram Pratals, the Pandits, the Badews, the Rampersadhs, the Jugnanans and the Ramlall Jankis. Mr Ramlakan said the Indian-origin farmers had not only played a significant role in providing sugar cane to the Melville and Darnall sugar mills, but also involved themselves in the social and cultural upliftment of the people. "The farmers have given generously for the construction of schools and religious institutions. One of the schools that my family has built has now been given to the African community." Another sugar farmer, Rajan Ramprotal, who retired recently, said it was "a hard life". "At one time we farmed more than 300 acres. We did not only struggle to cultivate the land but also faced restrictions from the sugar industry and the authorities," said 63-year-old Ramprotal. "It was not easy. We used to be told that our cane was not as good as those of the white farmers, there was a quota system for our cane and the authorities introduced a permit system for the purchase of petrol. "But despite all the restrictions and discrimination we survived and made progress," he said. One of the younger generation of farmers is 32-year-old Ms Sobena Dharamdew. Her family has been farming in the area for more than 100 years. "I took up serious farming only five years ago and I am involved both in cash crops and also sugar farming," said the young farmer. "Farming has always been in my blood and I enjoy it," she said. Ms Dharamdew and the more than 100 other small-scale sugar farmers continue to farm in the region despite incidents in the late 1980s and the 1990s when more than 500ha of land were invaded and settled by squatters. About 30 Indian landowners affected by the invasions had to move out and settle in Stanger and other areas. The affected land had been purchased by the Department of Land Affairs and given to the local municipality for administration. "I have no fears about continuing to farm. My neighbours are both African and white farmers," said Ms Dharamdew. The organisation that looks after the interests of the farmers is the Darnall Canegrowers' Association, which is affiliated to the Natal Canegrowers Association. The secretary of both associations, Mr Arjun Jagessur, said at one time in the 1960s there were about 130 Indian sugar farmers in the Nonoti-San Souci region. "But now there are 100 farmers in the area and 430 sugar growers in the Stanger-Darnall area," he said. Mr Jagessur, 70, who hails from the Kearsney area, near Stanger, said at one time in the 1960s there were about 1800 Indian-origin sugar farmers from the Tugela River in the north to the Umzimkulu River in the south. "But this number has now diminished for various reasons to only about 1 000 Indian sugar farmers. A lot of land has been expropriated for things like township developments and for the King Shaka Airport. "Crime has also been a factor in many Indian farmers leaving the land. Also the younger generation seem to be interested in following a number of other professions," said Mr Jagessur. About 90 percent of the Indian-origin farmers today were small-scale farmers. "The younger generation don't seem to have any hope in farming. They believe farming will not provide them with security and they also don't have any incentive to continue like their parents and grand-parents. "The conditions today are changing all the time." Chopper's Town While some people had been fortunate to continue with sugar cane farmers, other descendants of indentured labourers, who were forced to move out of sugar estates after the closure of the sugar estates, had to move into urban areas and find jobs as labourers. One such group of descendants settled in an area called Blackburn Village or Chopper's Town, near Mount Edgecombe, some 60 years. The village, made up mainly of wood and iron houses, is home to about 6 000 people. Among the residents are about 30 families who have their roots in sugar estates that dotted the Mount Edgcombe-Ottawa-Verulam-Umdloti region some 60 years ago. The village, situated on sugar cane land between Mount Edgecombe and Umdloti, is clearly visible when one uses the N2 highway in both directions. But there's no access to the village from the highway. In order to get to the village, I recently had to drive on more than six kilometres of corrugated and dirt road from an access point along the Verulam-Umdloti Beach road. When I reached the village, I was not prepared for the sight that greeted me. Hundreds of tiny wood and iron shacks dotted the village alongside about four brick houses, foot paths formed long lines in and out of the shack houses, a pile of rubbish dumped in one section of the village, and there were also some men who relieved themselves in the open without any concern for women and other passers-by. At the same time some residents went about their chores without any worry in the world, and children shouted and played in the only proper but dirt road that served the area. The village was first established about 60 years ago by former sugar cane labourers who had been forced to look for new homes after the sugar estates they worked in had stopped operating. These sugar estates included the La Lucia barracks, where the La Lucia Mall is currently situated; Blackburn; Cornubia; Burnside; Bellamont; and Hillhead. A young man, Wayne Govender, whose grand-parents worked as labourers at the La Lucia Sugar Estate, acted as my guide through the shack jungle. His grand-mother, Lutchmee Govender, father, two uncles, and other cousins still live in the village. "All the people who settled here some 60 years ago were from sugar estates nearby," Mrs Lutchmee Govender, 66, told me while seated in the small lounge of her humble home. "I also worked in the sugar cane fields while staying at La Lucia barracks. I was born there and as a young girl I joined my parents to work in the sugar fields. I was paid two pounds a month," she said. "My father, Pakiripan, was born in Darnall. After marrying my mother, Muniamma, he moved to La Lucia barracks where my four brothers, four sisters and I were born. I married at a very young age and continued to stay at La Lucia barracks. I had four sons and two girls. "We all moved here after La Lucia barracks was closed down some 60 years ago. My three sons and their families are still staying here," said the sprightly Mrs Govender. Mrs Govender, some of her siblings, and others who have links to the sugar cane industry say that although their lives have been an uphill struggle, they regarded Chopper's Town as their "home". "We have always lived here as one big, happy family. Up to this day we share all our joys and sorrows with one another. We would like to continue to live here but it seems new developments are going to affect us," she said. Mr Vinod Bawanipersad, 38, is another resident whose parents and grand-parents worked in nearby sugar estates. He works as a waiter at the nearby Mount Edgecombe Driving Range to support his wife and five children. "My parents worked in the Naningar, Cornubia and Burnside sugar estates before moving here," he said. "I was born here along with my two brothers and three sisters. Now I live here with my wife and five children. This is a wonderful place and all I want is for us to stay here." Mr Bawanipersad is concerned about the unemployment situation affecting the families and the plight of some teenage children who have stopped attending high school. "Most of the people staying here are unemployed and this is of concern to all of us. What is even more worrying is that a number of young people have stopped going to high school because they are unable to pay school fees and they cannot afford the transport to the schools. We are concerned that these children are going to become the new lost generation because without a decent education they will have no future whatsoever," he said. Another family we visited was Ricky Munsamy, 40, his wife, Lynette, and two children. His parents also worked at La Lucia sugar estate. They were also concerned about teenage children not attending high school to complete their secondary education. "This area is our home but we are concerned at the high rate of unemployment and the lack of opportunities for the teenage children to complete their education," said Mr Munsamy. His wife, Mrs Lynette Munsamy, said she had read and heard about a number of organisations being established to commemmorate the 150th anniversary of the arrival of Indian indentured labourers to South Africa. She had a question? "What is the point of all these activities when the people heading these organisations are not in touch with people like us and they know nothing about the conditions under which some of us, descendants of sugar cane labourers, live?", she asked. "Song and dance is good but these so-called leaders must do something practical and constructive to create a better life for people who live in places like Chopper's Town," she said. One of the few residents who is a property owner in the area is 81-year-old Abdulla Shaik. He lives in the area with his wife, some of his seven children, grand-children and great-grand-children. He has very little information about his ancestory but knows that his grand-parents were among the early Indians who came to the then Natal colony. His daughter, Mrs Shamim Cassim, said they had emotional ties with Chopper's Town. "We grew up here with so much freedom and joy," she said. "We used to fetch water from the nearby river, wash our clothes in the river, and also swim there. That type of life is now gone forever," she said. Another old-time resident who owns property in the area is Ish Rambaross, 55. He and his extended family of seven brothers have been living in Chopper's Town for more than 40 years. "We love this place but it's the not the same. In the early days this place was like heaven. But it has changed a great deal," he said. His nephew, Sanjeev, 25, said he was born in Chopper's Town and remembered the time when he and his friends "went fishing" without any worries. "I am afraid this has now all changed," he said. "The good life that our parents and grand-parents led, despite the hardships, are gone forever." Magazine Barracks Indentured labourers and their descendants also lived in many settlements in and around Durban. Some of these included Tin Town in Springfield, Magazine Barracks and Railway Barracks in central Durban, Point Barracks in the former Point Road area, and Dayal Road in Clairwood. Magazine Barracks was one of the most famous and I spoke to some former residents of Magazine Barracks to get a picture of what life was like during the early days for the people. When you visit the Central Police Station, the Magistrates' Court and the Somtseu Road Temple in central Durban today, do you by any chance have any inkling that this area was once a rich, colourful and thriving community settled by our indentured ancestors and their descendants for more than 80 years. Called Magazine Barracks, the area bounded by Argyle Road, Umgeni Road, Somtseu Raod, NMR Avenue, Stanger Street and Brickhill Road had its origins in the early 1880s when a group of about 28 indentured labourers were employed by the then Durban City Council. The indentured labourers, who were not allocated to any of the sugar estates, were recruited to work in positions such as as street sweepers, night soil removers, and parks and gardens attendants. They were initially housed in what was called Tram Barracks in Point Road before being moved to Magazine Barracks. Between 1880 and 1966 more than 2 000 families or about 10 000 people lived in Magazine Barracks. The majority of the people lived in houses built of wood and iron, while some had brick houses. For their water and sanitation needs they had to rely on communal facilities. The heads of all the families worked for the city council, mostly as labourers. "My father, who was India born, worked in the cleansing section for the city council and our family lived in one of the houses in Magazine Barracks," said 70-year-old Yesudhas Kuppen, who also worked for the council as a messenger and clerk. Mr Kuppen was the youngest of four brothers and a sister, who are all late now. "My brothers and I went to the then Depot Road primary school before starting work in the city council as messengers and clerks. We all stayed in Magazine Barracks until the early 1960s when we were moved to Unit 3 and 5 in Chatsworth because of the Group Areas Act," Mr Kuppen. Mr Kuppen recalled that his father, Kuppen, and mother, Muniamma, were staunch Tamil Baptists and all of them were fully conversant in the Tamil language. But despite their adherence to Christianity and the Tamil language, they had very good and cordial relations with the other Telugu and Hindi-speaking members of the community. "We all lived in unity. There was no such thing as one being a Hindu, Christian or Muslim. We also all learnt one another's languages and lived as one big family." Another person whose family lived in Magazine Barracks for more than 80 years is 67-year-old Vassie Muthen. His grand-father, Bengalaroo Munsamy Muthen, and grand-mother, Muniamma Rangamma, came to the then Natal Colony as indentured labourers from the current south Indian state of Karnataka. His grand-father worked as a "district sardar" for the city council. His father, Muthusamy Muthen, who was born in Magazine Barracks, worked as a clerk in the treasury department and also as a "market master". His father was also known as "Headmaster" because he was in charge of a school that taught Hindi, Tamil, Telugu and English. Mr Muthen, who was also born in Magazine Barracks along with his three brothers, five sisters and four adopted brothers, worked for the city council for 40 years, retiring in 1998. He and his extended family moved to Chatsworth in 1963 after being affected by the Group Areas Act, which stipulated that the city was for whites only. All other groups had to move out of the city to so-called Indian, African and coloured townships. "If it had not been for the Group Areas Act we would still be living in Magazine Barracks," he said. "There was brotherhood in our little village. There were no differences between us. There were no problems whatsover and we had no difference relating to religion. Religion only came to the picture when we went to the temple, church or mosque for prayers. "We also all learnt to speak Tamil, Hindi and Telugu. It was a fantastic situation to live in an area where we all looked at one another as brothers and sisters. We all looked after one another," he said. Although the residents of Magazine Barracks came from disadvantaged and poor backgrounds, they played significant and prominent roles in the religious, cultural, educational, sporting and political struggles at that time. There were a number of young activists who mobilised the community to join the Natal Indian Congress and became involved in the Passive Resistance campaigns against racial repression and discrmination. One of the activists who has his roots in Magazine Barracks is Swaminathan Gounden, who at 84 is still active today. Mr Gounden also initiated the Young Communist League and the Red Rose Social Club. His brother, R K Gounden, was chairman of the Durban Indian Municipal Employees Society(DIMES) for 25 years. Dimes later became known as the Durban Integrated Municipal Employees Society. Mr Gounden's father, Karuppa, who was from India, worked as an elephant attendant at Durban's Mitchell Park. Swaminathan, his brother and nine sisters were all born in Magazine Barracks. His brother and eight sisters have now all passed away. "We were very young when we became interested in the struggles against racial inequality and discrimination," said Mr Gounden. "We came under the influence of George Singh, Dr Monty Naicker, Billy Peters, Dr Kesaval Goonum and other leaders who used to visit Magazine Barracks to take up our struggles," he said. The president of the Magazine Barracks Remembrance Association, Danny Pillay, whose great-grand-parents came from India in 1878, recalls that Dr Naicker was a regular visitor to Magazine Barracks. The association was established in 1997 to keep alive the rich history of the village and to keep in contact with surviving residents. "In addition to taking up our plight, Dr Naicker showed great interest in our cultural activities and used to attend the Thirukutu or six foot dance festivals. He used to be the patron," said Pillay. "At one time Dr Naicker also paid for a group of people from the barracks to attend a debate on the Thirukural (Tamil holy book) in Johannesburg. Mr Muthusamy Muthen and Angie Solai won the debate." In the religious field, the residents had built several temples to cater for the spiritual needs of the community. In addition to the Somtseu Road Temple, which still survives today, there used to be a Tamil Baptish Church, a Telugu Baptist Church, Somtseu Kovil, and the Vishnu Temple. Some of the leaders in the religious, cultural and linguistic fields were Chinnapapa Nattar, R C Sam, Muthusamy Muthen, Nagan Pandaram, G M Solai, Velu Irusen, Bill Munsamy and Tony Moon. Some of the people who played leading roles in the musical field were Jeddy Maharaj, Jagessar, Kapri Vaithar, Andhra Naidoo, Angela Peters, Janaki Appalsamy, Kamala James, Ruthnam Ganas, Singarveloo, Kamala Nathan, and John Kisten. The sporting personalities who have come out of the barracks include Marimuthu (Mari) Mathambu, Lighty Chinniah, V C Moodley, Kannay Dharmalingam, Chappi Kisten, Vardha Chetty, Siva Millar, Johnny Millar, G. Kistensamy, Angumuthoo Aboo Reddy, Noor Reddy, Ford Naidoo, Sewnarain Lall, Chin Bobby Naidoo, N S Naidoo, Govindsamy Moodley(soccer); Louis Joshua, Billy Nagiah, Steven Appiah, Sada Pillay, Darkie Moonsamy (boxing); and Andara brothers (wrestling). Some of the football clubs that rose to prominence from Magazine Barracks were Sunrise, Temple Villa, Violets, Square Rangers, Clyde, Ramblers, Casbah, Sons of India, Temple City, Pop Eye Lads, Young Buccaneers, Magazine Rangers, Leicester City, Celtic, Boys Town, Depot Road United, Spartak. In addition to these clubs, the city council workers also had their own soccer clubs named after the departments they had worked in. These included Storm Waters, Painters, Cleansing, City Health, Sanitations and Sewage. There were also soccer clubs that were run by gangsters in the village. They included Yorks F C and Groundfeel F C. One of the best-known sporting personalities to emerge from Magazine Barracks is Sam Ramsamy, who started his sporting involvement as a lifesaver. He played an influential role in non-racial swimming in KwaZulu-Natal and later left the country to lead the sporting onslaught against apartheid South Africa under the auspieces of the South African Non-Racial Olypmic Committee (SANROC). Ramsamy returned to the country in the early 1990s and became head of the South African National Oympic Committee. Today he serves on the executive of the International Olympic Committee. "The vibrancy, culture, and colour of Magazine Barracks has been lost forever," said Mr Vassie Muthen. "We will never be able to replicate the community spirit we had in another area." ends

1 comment:

  1. I grew up in Sezela and my grandfather was the nicknamed" no 1" as he was the self taught locomotive engineer for the "no 1 engine". I loved reading your article and this makes me so proud of our forefathers. They truly where the pioneers of South Africa.