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Arrival of First Indian Labourers in South Africa celebrated

PTI 17 Nov 2014, 10:52:37 AM IST

Durban: The arrival of the first shipload of Indians as indentured sugarcane plantation labourers 154 years ago was marked with a dual commemoration today.

At the Shri Marieamman Temple in Mount Edgecombe, the heartland of the erstwhile sugar industry in the country, about 20 km north of Durban, two life-size statues were unveiled representing the men and women who undertook the arduous journey aboard the SS Truro in search of a new life.

Temple officials said the installation of the statues at one of the oldest temples in the country, established by those first migrants, had been planned for the 150th commemoration four years ago, but funding delays for the cement and steel statues had caused postponement.

Among the dignitaries attending the event were Zulu King Goodwill Zwelithini and new Indian High Commissioner to South Africa, Ruchi Ghanashyam.

Sculptor Venkatesh Narayanan said it had taken a week for him and two assistants to finish the statues from archive pictures provided to them about how the men and women looked at that time.

In a separate event, a historic museum dedicated to preserving the history of the now-1.4-million South Africans of Indian-origin was given a boost when a building was returned to the 1860 Heritage Centre by the provincial government.

Originally known as the Durban Cultural and Documentation Centre when it was first started in 1996, the museum housed historical artefacts such as musical instruments brought from India, traditional garments and a wide range of documents and photographs.

After being shut down in 2007 for refurbishment, the centre was turned into a music house, with the 1860 Heritage Foundation taking up the struggle to get it back.

Krish Gokool, the chairman of the centre and president of the foundation, said he was delighted at the return of the venue.

Provincial Minister of Arts and Culture Ntombikayise Sibhidla-Sapetha had promised last year already that the centre would be handed back and Gokool suggested that November 16 would be the most appropriate day to do the ceremonial handover.

Gokool said plans were underway to redevelop the centre into a more user-friendly facility, given the technological changes in museums worldwide, especially how tech-savvy children today see traditional museums.