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Indian Indentured Coal Miners

Despite being an overlooked minority during slavery, the work of Indian Indentured labourers continues to boost modern day dismal sciences. The slave trade of 1860-1911 fixated on predominately African imprisonment, without paying heed to the exhaustion of disparate race groups. Upon arrival at the Cape of Good Hope, the Dutch East India Company sanctioned slavery through domestic work, farming, and mining – all of which contributed to the rudimentary development of the South African economy.


The unrestricted influx of Indian Labourers coming into Natal, presented an inexpensive route to subjugation and serfdom. Coal Mining in particular, required agility and industrious efforts – it being a high-risk trade, merchants and managers quickly deflected it onto unskilled and underpaid workers. “Coal mining became increasingly dependent on Indian indentured labour” (Phillip, 1994). The subconscious outcome of hiring Indian Labourers is seen through the global networking and rising GDP of the country.


The blooming industrial revolution attracted the attention of foreigners to South Africa, as the sugarcane plantations; mining; agriculture and rising developments suggested an advancing society. Not only was it a vacation hotspot, but also a hub for cheap labour and favourable construction sites. “The discovery of minerals – diamonds in 1867 and gold in 1886 – dramatically changed the economic and political structure of southern Africa.” (South African History Online SAHO , 2019). Thousands of intricate working systems made it possible to mine, polish and distribute coal outward to society. As the demand grew higher, working conditions worsened, and profits skyrocketed.


Apart from gaining popularity in Natal, Indian labourers contributed to surrounding areas such as Mpumalanga as well. “Mpumalanga, encompassed the mines that produced 95% of the worlds coal” (South African History Online SAHO , 2019). The above mentioned corroborates the high productivity levels and earnest intentions of the labourers, that contributed to the overall growth of the economy.


The swindled wage agreements meant that a larger sum of money was allocated to managers, rather than ethically reimbursing workers. “Wages for the first year were 10 shillings, 11 shillings for the second year and 12 shillings for the third year.” (South African History Online SAHO , 2020). In accordance with the Natal Act No.14 of 1859, it was permissible to underpay employees in order to retain a larger profit to add to the economy. As a result, the low wages allowed to efficiently market South Africa as an international mineral exporter.


By reason of illiteracy and linguistic barriers, arriving immigrants were unaware of the context of proposed contracts. Mining administration lured labourers with accessible job opportunities and fast-paying reward systems. “dismissive of the coercive elements of indenture, leaving them open to accusations of imperial apologia, or failing to acknowledge the limitations that Indian conditions placed on ‘free’ labour migration” (Bates, 2017). During the waiting period of unemployment, Indian Labourers were considered slaves yet to be commandeered.


The census done in 2011 indicates that amongst other race groups – Indians remain to be the majority of individuals involved in underground coal mining. “Table 3:5 Employment of White, Indian and Black labour… 38,53% Indian”. (Phillip, 1994). The above statistic was made available even back then, suggesting to managers and employers that the Indian race group, provided a high productivity rate and successful partnership.


The Indian Indentured Coal Miners of South Africa have repeatedly attested to the success in the onset of South Africa's economy.

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