Durban, Feb 3: A commemorative statue to honour the memory of first Indian indentured labourers' arrival to South Africa in 1860 will be erected at a popular beachfront point here soon.
The Durban City Council has budgeted almost five million rands (USD 308,380) to build the heritage monument in memory of those who arrived on the steamship Truro after an arduous journey from India.
Logie Naidoo, the Speaker of the eThekwini council under which the City of Durban falls, said the statue would be erected on the popular tourist attraction of uShaka Beach, close to where the Truro, the ship from Madras carrying the first 342 indentured Indian laborers, landed in 1860.
Naidoo said there were also plans to erect a lifesize statue of Nelson Mandela close to the Indian heritage statue, with the two then becoming a fitting legacy for the role that South African Indians also played in fighting for the iconic leader's release from the prison after serving 27 years as a political prisoner and then becoming the country's first democratically elected President.
The erection of a statue was first suggested at the turn of the century by Indian leaders and was scheduled for launching in 2010, but was delayed due to lack of funding. The project will now be funded by the Heritage Directorate of the Office of the provincial Premier, which has transferred the money to eThekwini Municipality to implement the project.
Today there are 1.4 million South Africans of Indian origin, largely descendents from the many who arrived in a series of boat trips to work in the sugar cane fields for white landowners after the indigenous Zulu community did not provide enough labour, viewing it as a menial task.
Most of the first settlers from poor villages across India were lured with promises of good employment and payment which would allow them to be repatriated with savings they could take back to their families.
In reality, the working conditions were harsh, and at the end of their tenure, most labourers opted for the choice of getting a small piece of land rather than returning to India.
The forebears of today's South African Indian community have been lauded for decades for having the foresight to build schools, temples and mosques to ensure the educational and cultural survival of their descendants, who today have a literacy level of 100 per cent.
Many Indian citizens have also excelled in professional fields where they play leading roles despite being a minority which was also affected by pro-White apartheid era laws which restricted their movement and progress.
The Council expressed hope that these achievements would be reflected in the way that the artist commissioned for the memorial statue will interpret the role that the Indian community has played in the struggle for freedom as well.