03 May 2010
Gravesites of Indian Indentured Labourers found at Dube TradePort
3 May 2011
This year marks the 150th commemoration of the first Indian indentured labourers to have set foot on South African soil. Which makes the launch of the Inyaninga Ex-Resident’s Memorial Garden near the proposed AgriZone of Dube TradePort (home to King Shaka International Airport), particularly fitting. Whilst clearing alien vegetation on this site, graves were uncovered near the AgriZone. After much investigation, it was discovered that these graves belong to some of the indentured labourers, who once worked in sugar-cane plantations in the area. Their surviving relatives were located and Dube TradePort embarked on a dignified restoration of the area, creating a memorial garden, a beautiful contemplative space that honours those who have paved the way before us.
A plaque near the entrance, that will be unveiled by His Excellency Mr Jacob Gedleyihlekisa Zuma, President of South Africa, on Saturday 8th May, states:
NO-ONE TRULY DIES AS LONG AS SOMEONE REMEMBERS THEM
This was the chosen wording of the Ex-Residents of Inyaninga, some of whom are related to those early indentured labourers buried in the garden.
In November 1860, the SS Truro from Madras and the Belvedere from Calcutta brought hundreds of Indians from India to South Africa, many of them to work as indentured labourers on the sugar-cane plantations of Natal. Today, Indian South Africans form the largest group of people of Indian descent born outside of India. More than two-thirds of South Africa’s Indians live in KwaZulu-Natal.
When the gravesite was located at Dube TradePort, it was covered in thick vegetation. Once the area was cleared and alien vegetation removed, three headstones were discovered. The area was once a swamp. When water was drained from it, the area was identified as a burial ground for the residents of Inyaninga. The first burials would have occurred around the 1940s. The Indian tradition of cremation was not acceptable by the the Government of the time. Few people could afford tombstones so iron rods were used as markers. Trees were also planted on the graves.
The entrance to the burial ground had two iron rods on either side. This was The Gateway To Heaven (Tamil – Harichandra Kovil). An offering was made here before entry to the site. To offset the stench of decomposing bodies, salt, talcum powder and perfume was placed in the coffins. You can see remains of scent bottles around this site.
African labourers were also buried here. The presence of the plant Sanseveria Trifasciata (mother-in-law’s tongue) is significant as, in Africa, this plant is believed to be a protective charm against evil.
The Ex-Residents of Inyaninga consider themselves to be “Blessed to have a reminder of our forefathers, our friends and neighbours”. In the words of their chairman,
“We acknowledge our sincere thanks and appreciation to Dube TradePort for its magnanimous gesture of ensuring that this gravesite is remembered for generations to come. It was sheer providence that this site was on Dube TradePort property.”