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Indian Indentured Labour in Natal 1860-1911

The majority of Indian South Africans are the descendants of indentured workers brought to Natal between 1860 and 1911 to develop the sugar industry in this province. In 1911, India prohibited the indentured labour to Natal because of the ill treatment of its citizens in the Province. India, whose import trade on the eve of British occupation consisted of gold bullion, now exported as much in revenue to Britain. Evasion of dues on trade and the extraction of exorbitant taxes from land owners and local rulers further impoverished its people. In rural areas, British administrative laws and actions led to peasants? losing their land.

The reduction in exports of raw materials, the heavy tax burden and various other factors inflated the value of money and deflated prices and incomes. This coupled with the avarice of the British coloniser eventually contribute significantly in turning land holding peasants to rootless labourers where they eventually forced into factories and onto plantations through the world. It was against this background that Indians began contracting their labour to the world in 1834 to the plantations of the world. The first recorded reference to Natal Colonists? demand for indentured labour appears in a report in the Durban Observer, 17 October 1851 at a meeting of citizens held at the Durban Government School Hall where a motion calling for the introduction of indentured labour was passed. However, it must be noted that the first Indians, four in numbers, had been brought to Natal in 1849. Jan van Riebeeck had as early as the 1650s brought Indians as slaves to South Africa. During the 17th and 18th centuries, over 50% of all slaves at the Cape were Indian from Bengal and South India.






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