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The 1949 DURBAN RIOTS
On 13 January 1949 an Indian store-keeper in central Durban assaulted an African youth. This incident resulted in a wave of violence, … were injured – 541 Africans, 503 Indians, 32 whites and 11 Coloureds. Buildings which were completely destroyed in the riots included 247 houses, 58 shops and one factory, while other properties that were damaged numbered one thousand houses, … homes and took refuge in camps staffed by NIC officials as rioting spread from Durban to Pietermaritzburg.
Swaminathan Karuppa Gounden
Swaminathan Karuppa Gounden, Order of Luthuli in Silver, was among the last of the generation responsible for drafting the Freedom Charter at the Congress of the People in Kliptown in 1955. He was born in the municipal workers’ compound at Magazine Barracks in Durban on 16 December 1927, the son of an Indian indentured worker. His birthday has several significant historical parallels that coincide with his courageous political choices in an unrelenting life in the struggle for South African freedom. Gounden joined the Communist Party of South Africa in 1944 and later the Natal Indian Congress. He was among the group of radical activists led by Dr Monty Naicker, MD Naidoo and Dr K Goonum to unseat the conservative leadership of the NIC. He was an organiser in the Passive Resistance Campaign of 1946 where he worked with among others JB Marks and Yusuf Dadoo. The subsequent Three Doctors Pact of 1947 signed by the presidents of the ANC, NIC and TIC was the first formal agreement committing to non -racial organisation and mobilisation.
He was active in the trade unions as a shoe factory worker. His unionist contemporaries included Curnick Ndlovu, Billy Nair, Poomoney Moodley, George and Vera Ponen and Kay Moonsamy. Gounden was a volunteer in the 1952 Defiance Campaign. In the run up to the Kliptown Conference, he was deployed to the industrial areas of Jacobs and Clairwood to collect the peoples’ demands. He recalls fondly the political tutelage received from Inkosi Albert Luthuli at the Congress offices in Durban. He was among three delegates elected by workers – one Indian and two Africans – to represent them at Kliptown. By taking side roads in a car driven by his brother-in-law, they avoided police roadblocks and made it to the conference. On his return he was immediately fired from the R. Faulks shoe factory. He was then taken on by the NPO Durban Child Welfare movement in which he served until his retirement. He was recruited into the underground of the SACP and ANC. In 1964 he was detained in solitary confinement under the notorious 90 day laws. The case collapsed when the witness was clandestinely taken out of the country. He was thus spared likely sentencing to Robben Island, a fate that befell his closest comrades. His physical effects of the torture meted by his Nazi-trained interrogator remained with him throughout his life. On his release he was banned and listed as a communist. He defied those restrictions and continued his underground work in spite of constant security police harassment. In 1971 he was among those responsible for the revival of the Natal Indian Congress. He organised in civic structures in his local community and remained the longest serving paid up member in his local association. He was active throughout the repression of the 1970s and 1980s and was among those to publicly receive Archie Gumede, Billy Nair and Paul David when they left the occupation of the British Consulate in Durban in 1984. He was also selected as a delegate to the launch of the United Democratic Front in Cape Town. Always prizing his self-proclaimed role as a “backroom boy”, he was content to work without title in the branch structures of his political and civic organisations after the unbanning of organisations in 1990.
He remained an activist throughout his life embracing new projects like the South Africa in the Making Exhibition, Magazine Barracks Remembrance Association, Gandhi-Luthuli Documentation Centre at UKZN and the Durban Book Fair in his later eighties and early nineties. He actively promoted the Afro-Indian Peace Garden at his old primary school, Depot Road Memorial, as a practical means of social cohesion. Gounden was an exemplar of a South African patriot, model citizen, activist and non-racialist. He passed on in the early hours of 30 November, a fortnight short of his 94th birthday. He would have frowned at being called a giant but he was certainly one of the sturdiest and tallest trees among the forest of struggle stalwarts.
From bondage to freedom – The 161st Anniversary of the Arrival of Indian Workers in South Africa
In the second half if the 19th Century, Indians came to South Africa in two categories, namely as indentured workers in 1860 and later as ‘free’ or ‘passenger’ Indians. The former came as a result of a triangular pact among three governments, which stated that the indentured Indians were to work for the Natal colonial government on Natal’s sugar plantations. The ‘free’ Indians came to South Africa mainly as traders alert to new opportunities abroad. These ‘free Indians’ came at their own expense from India, Mauritius, and other places. However, emigration was stopped in 1914.
Between November 1860 and 1911 (when the system of indentured labour was stopped) nearly 152 184 indentured labourers from across India arrived in Natal. After serving their indentures, the first category of Indians were free to remain in South Africa or to return to India. By 1910, nearly 26.85% indentured men returned to India, but most chose to stay and thus constituted the forbearers of the majority of present-day South African Indians.
A key factor that helped forge a common South African “Indian” identity was the political struggles waged against harsh discriminatory laws enacted against Indians and the other Black oppressed groups in the country. Therefore, the Indian community established a number of political formations, the most prominent being the Natal Indian Congress (NIC) established by Gandhi in 1894, and the Transvaal and Cape Indian Congresses in the early part of the 20th century. Members of the Indian Congress, together with socialist activists in the Communist Party of South Africa were instrumental, from the 1930s, in building cross-racial alliances. The small Indian, Coloured and White progressive sectors joined with progressive African activists and together, they conducted a common non-racial struggle for Freedom and Equality.