While there are many Indian communities around the world, consisting of those who moved abroad for business, personal or retirement reasons, the number of Indians living in South Africa has been and continues to be significant in the context of the overall South African population. As we have mentioned on a number of occasions, there are many large clusters of Indians living overseas although one of the more intriguing locations for those of Indian origin is South Africa where the situation for “non-whites” was very different in the past – although it has improved dramatically over the last few years.
There are many different aspects to consider with regards to Indians living in South Africa and we will attempt to address a number of issues, comment on the future and make reference to problems in the past.
The history of Indians living in South Africa
Anybody who has even come across South Africa will be well aware of the major racial problems and racial tension which has been a significant thorn in the side of the authorities for many years. While so-called “apartheid” has effectively been dismantled and cast into the historic litter bin there is still a significant hangover from these very difficult years.
It will come as no surprise to anybody who has read any of the articles on this website to learn that the vast majority of Indians living in South Africa can be traced back to population movement under the old British Commonwealth. Indeed, records show that the vast majority of Indians living in South Africa at the moment are directly descended from those who moved there in the late 19th century and the early 20th century. Again, there is also some confusion as regards “Asian Indians” and “Indian South Africans” which are from very different parts of the world, have very different cultures and very different histories.
Cultural differences in South Africa
If there is one country in the world where the cultural differences between the various elements of the population has been very evident in the past it has to be South Africa. This is a country where “non-whites” were moved to various townships, not allowed to claim various benefits, refused access to housing stock and in reality were treated worse than second class citizens. Their religious beliefs, their cultural beliefs, their way of life and their whole “being” was effectively controlled by the government and the apartheid laws.
After a very bitter and a very long battle with the “white” government of South Africa there have been major changes with regards to the way that “non-whites” are treated which obviously affects the everyday life, employment opportunities, housing situation and other elements of life for Indians living in South Africa. Many will argue that there is still some way to go to see that all South African residents are treated exactly the same, there is also no doubt that major changes have occurred over the last 50 years and life today for Indians in South Africa is certainly a lot better than that of their forefathers.
Religion in South Africa
The vast majority of Indians in South Africa are Muslim, Hindu or Christian although there are a number of other religions practised within this community. Recent figures suggest that 43% of the 1.3 million Indians living in South Africa class themselves as Hindu with 51% classing themselves as Muslim. This perfectly illustrates the strength of religion within the Indian South African community and in many ways also highlights the fact that changes to regulations and laws in South Africa have certainly resulted in more religious tolerance even if there is some way to go yet. During the years of apartheid some of the stories which emerged South Africa, very often after various regulations and restrictions had been lifted, were very brutal, inhuman and something which many people hope have gone forever.
Thankfully new tolerance levels in South Africa are making life more enjoyable for elements of the population such as Indians living in South Africa although there are literally millions of people living in the country who have their origins elsewhere.
The apartheid movement in South Africa
Despite the fact that Nelson Mandela was very much the figurehead of the anti-apartheid movement in South Africa and indeed has been rewarded for his struggles by many governments and many associations round the world, it will surprise many people to learn that historically a large number of South African Indians also played a major role in the anti-apartheid movement. The very fact that the culture and the opinion of “non-whites” was very much repressed within the years of apartheid has not been forgotten but there are many names which have gone down in history from the Indian community in the country.
There is much confusion and much discussion about the apartheid laws which were effectively disbanded in the 1990s with some believing that new regulations and new powers have overcompensated for the apartheid years while others believing they have not gone far enough. The truth is that despite the fact that South Africa is nearly 20 years on from apartheid there is still much work to be done, there are still problems within white and non-white communities and even employment does not appear to be evenly spread amongst the various cultures and the various races in the country.
Employment in South Africa
Despite the fact that South Africa has a very difficult history there is no doubt that it is one of the major players in the area and has attracted the attention of thousands of overseas investors and overseas companies. Employment laws have been changed, regulations have been adjusted and while there is still some work to be done, in theory although maybe not in practice, all cultures and races should stand an equal chance of successfully applying for various positions available today.
The economy of South Africa consists of many different areas with finance, natural resources and the services industry having played a major role in the recent past and set to play a larger role in the future. The years of underinvestment and indeed non-investment from overseas companies, particularly during the apartheid years, are well behind the country and it has been flourishing for some time now. Historically, Indians living in South Africa have been forced into more menial jobs but this again is changing and the experience of new Indian expats moving to South Africa is now more IT-based and more technology-based than ever before.
It also makes sense that we have seen a significant increase in the number of Indians moving to South Africa since the removal of the apartheid laws and the move towards equality. This ongoing influx of expats looking to move to South Africa, from various areas of the world, is set to continue for some time to come although with regards to in the employment market there are major differences between some of the more rural areas of South Africa and the likes of Cape Town.
The cost of living in South Africa
For many years under the apartheid system there was effectively a two tier, or more than two tier, living standard between the “whites” and the “non-whites”. While much of this difference has now disappeared under the post apartheid years there is again still some catching up to do to bring both parties onto the same level playing field. In many ways it is still the white population of South Africa that controls the landmasses, larger businesses, have access to better education and other vital elements of society.
It is also worth noting that the cost of living in the more rural areas of South Africa is very different to the cost of living in many of the more luxurious areas such as Cape Town. In simple terms, whatever your budget, whatever your work experience and whatever your goals there will be an area of the country which will offer a future within your budget.
Crime in South Africa
It can often be very difficult to find accurate figures with regards to crime in South Africa although the recent football World Cup highlighted the fact that crime is still a major problem in many of the townships in and round some of the major cities of South Africa. The authorities have done, and continue, to make progress in this particular area but the problems of racial tensions in some areas of South Africa still continues to this day and do not assist the job of the law enforcement agencies in the country.
Many believe that while “non-whites” are now more evident in the police force and other government offices than ever before there is still work to be done and a more balanced approach to the make-up of these particular government departments needs to be addressed. It is unlikely that crime will fall significantly in some of the deprived townships of South Africa because while the rich get richer there is no doubt that there are major economic and cultural problems in some of the more troubled townships.
The spread of wealth in South Africa is nowhere as balanced as the vast majority of other countries around the world and this has done and continues to cause friction between various elements of the population to the detriment of the overall image of South Africa.
The future of South Africa
Despite the fact that anti-apartheid campaigners claimed victory in the 1990s when apartheid laws were effectively dismantled there is still work to be done. It would be wrong to suggest that Indians living in South Africa, and other races, are still as badly treated as they were under the apartheid laws but it would be wrong to suggest there is a balanced playing field across the overall South African population.
With regards to the economy of South Africa there are so many potential areas of growth including finance, banking, natural resources, services industry and import/export. There continues to be an ongoing influx of overseas investment in the country which is helping to lift many out of the poverty of years gone by with more employment positions available across the board. However, like each and every other country around the world, South Africa has suffered during the recent ongoing economic downturn and there will be at best be a period of consolidation. While this is unlikely to stop the ongoing influx of foreign visitors, looking for employment and residency, it may well impact upon prospects in the employment market in the short to medium term.
Life for Indians living in South Africa
As we touched on above, there is a long and a great history of Indians moving to South Africa and many of the population have links with India. The years of slavery and menial employment positions have certainly moved on but there is still a feeling of an imbalance in the employment market between various cultures and various races in the country. On a more positive note however, improvements in choice, improvements in prospects, improvements in finances and an overall improvement in living standards has seen the creation of more visible Indian communities within South Africa.
We’ve also seen growth in the Indian services market, Indian food market and other areas of the economy utilised by Indians living in South Africa. There is work to be done, there are still racial tensions and there are still problems with regards to crime but the South Africa we see today is a major improvement on the South Africa of 20 years ago.
Apartheid has been a major issue in South Africa for many years and despite the fact that apartheid laws have been lifted and abolished there is still some cultural and racial friction within the South African population. However, the prospects for “non-whites” have improved dramatically over the last few years even if there is still work to be done in this particular area. It seems rather bizarre that apartheid laws had such a major impact upon the life of many races and cultures in South Africa despite the fact that Indians in South Africa have a history which goes back to the 19th century and beyond!