Asians in South Africa

From Academic Kids

Asians in South Africa constitute two per cent of South Africa's population, and most are of Indian origin, although there is also a small Chinese community. Most are descended from indentured Indian labourers who were brought by the British from India in the 19th century, mostly to work in what is now the province of KwaZulu-Natal (KZN). The rest are descended from Indian traders who migrated to South Africa at around the same time, many from the Gujarat area. KZN's largest city, Durban, has the largest Asian population in sub-Saharan Africa, and the Indian independence leader Mahatma Gandhi worked as a lawyer in the city in the early 1900s.

Most are either Hindu or Muslim, and while a few still speak Indian languages like Telugu and Gujarati, which have constitutional protection, most younger Indians speak English exclusively, and use Afrikaans or Zulu as a second language.

Although Indian languages are seldom spoken or understood by younger Indians, English-subtitled Bollywood films and television programmes remain popular among South African Indians. These are broadcast both by the South African Broadcasting Corporation's SABC 1 television channel for a few hours each week, and by the DStv satellite television service, which carries Zee TV, B4U, NDTV and an Indian-language Sony channel, as well as South Indian channels, introduced in 2004. DVD and video versions of Bollywood films are widely available, and large movie theatre chains like Ster-Kinekor increasingly show Bollywood films.

The South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC) also has an Indian-oriented radio service called Lotus FM.

Discriminated against by Apartheid legislation like the Group Areas Act, Indians were forcibly moved into Indian townships, and had their movements restricted. They were not allowed to reside in the Orange Free State, and needed special permission to enter that province. They were also, as a matter of state policy, given an inferior education compared to white South Africans. The University of Durban-Westville (now part of the University of KwaZulu-Natal) was created for Indian students in the 1970s.

In 1983, the Constitution was reformed to allow the Coloured and Indian minorities a limited participation in separate and subordinate Houses of Parliament, a development which enjoyed limited support. The Indian house was called the House of Delegates. Some aspects of Indian life were regulated by this house, including education. The theory was that the Indian minority could be allowed limited rights, but the Black majority were to become citizens of independent homelands. These separate arrangements were removed by the negotiations which took place from 1990 to provide all South Africans with the vote.

Indians played an important role in the anti-apartheid struggle, and a few rose to positions of power after the 1994 elections in South Africa. After the end of apartheid, it seemed like many Indians, particularly the poor, had begun to support formerly white parties such as the Democratic Alliance and New National Party, as they felt threatened by the policies of the ruling African National Congress. This trend appeared to have been reversed in the 2004 elections, with most historically Indian areas voting for the ANC.

The much smaller Chinese community is mostly descended from migrant workers who came to work in the gold mines around Johannesburg in the late 19th century, although many were repatriated. More recently, there have been immigrants from Taiwan, with which South Africa maintained diplomatic relations. This caused difficulties for the apartheid regime, as Chinese South Africans were classified as 'Asian' and hence 'non-white', whereas Taiwanese Chinese, along with Japanese, were considered 'honorary white', and thus granted the same privileges as whites. Many Chinese South Africans dislike the label 'Asian', which they associate with being Indian or South Asian, and many have also emigrated to Canada, especially to Vancouver.

The "Cape Malays", who are descended -- at least in part -- from Asians were classified as "Coloureds" under apartheid.

Following the end of apartheid, a new wave of South Asian immigration commenced, with the new immigrants moving into Indian areas, where, presumably they will be less conspicuous to authorities, as many are illegal immigrants.

See also: Demographics of South Africa, Culture of South Africa, South African English


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