Sunday, May 10, 2020


(The article was published on November 23 1977 in the Daily News under the headline: “Tongaat woman 100 next month)
In late November 1977, while I was busy covering the intensified political struggles and the apartheid regime’s repressive actions for the Durban Daily News, I, at the same time, had the privilege of talking to a former indentured labourer who was celebrating her 100th birthday.
Mrs Muniamma Mannan, who was living in the village of Tongaat Section on the North Coast at that time, had arrived with her indentured parents and a sister in 1887 when she was nine-years-old. They had come from the village of Perigaran in the state of Tamil Nadu in South India. They were indentured to the Tongaat Sugar Company and had settled in the village known as Ramsamy Cotrie in Tongaat Section. Ramsamy was a “sadar” or overlord who lived in Tongaat Section, the first Indian settlement in Tongaat. Although she was slightly blind and deaf, Mrs Mannan was at her age still knowledgeable about her early life, their hardship in the sugar cane fields and the tough conditions under which they had work and live. Speaking in the Tamil language, Mrs Mannan told me that she also worked as an indentured labourer with her parents and younger sister. She and her sister were paid about three pennies a day. She married at an early age and settled permanently in the Ramsamy village. Unlike other indentured labourers who either went back to India or settled elsewhere in Natal, she had remained in the village. “My husband and I worked very hard for the company,” she told me. Mrs Mannan raised eight children, six sons and two daughters. Three grown-up sons had died at the time she was turning 100. She would have been 143-years-old today if she had been alive. (Re-published May 10 2020)

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