Read To Win

Out of South Africa: What Indians wrote before, during and after Apartheid

Everything you wanted to know about South African fiction by writers of Indian origin.

In 1983, J.M. Coetzee talked of South African literature “as a literature in bondage. It is less than human.” He meant the political burden that the literature of the region continues to carry, four decades later.  Indian writing from the country faces not merely this political burden but also a historical one, one which is arguably different from other communities.

Indeed, identity, along with the history that shapes it, has for long played a big role in Indian writing from Africa in general and South Africa in particular,  where the Indian population was discriminated against in different ways in an apartheid regime. The change promised, or what has fallen short in post-apartheid South Africa, is reflected in the writing of South African Indians in large measure.

Inner lives, hidden conflicts

Stories of early Indian settlers have appeared in several works by the first Indian writers in South Africa. Ansuyah Singh's Behold the Earth Mourns is regarded as the first South African Indian novel; the book appeared in 1960.

It is set in the 1940s, when racist laws such as the Asiatic Land Tenure Act have just been enforced.  Srenika, son of an Indian settler who has risen up from being an indentured labourer hopes to return from Bombay having married Yageswari, the daughter of a well-off cosmopolitan family.  However, laws don’t allow brides to accompany Indians to Africa and this prompts Srenika to join in the Gandhian resistance movement.

Yageshwari enters India only through the intervention of a border guard.  But Srenika’s political awakening follows his friendship with an African activist, Serete Luseka. Their relationships appears as a contrast  to the relations  between Yageshwari and Anna, her African maid, and the book shows up how racially motivated laws can creep insidiously into,  and have an impact in, the domestic sphere of the home and the family.

This early  Indian history in South Africa and the convolutions it has witnessed over the decades – appears in Ashwin Desai’s Ratanya Mochi (a part of Rajendra Chetty’s collection), which tells of the vicissitudes in the life of an indentured labourer, who is brought against  her will from  Hyderabad to Africa.

But it is as a sociologist’s perspective that Desai’s work on the unique struggle and search to belong waged by the Indian community in South Africa has proved penetratingly insightful and is rich in detail. In his books, Arise Ye Coolies: Apartheid and the Indian 1960-1995, and later We are the Poors: Community Struggles in Post-Apartheid Africa, he narrates the need for community and yet how this need must cohere with the one to preserve identity and even tradition in the struggle against hegemonies, during and even after apartheid, and that this struggle isn’t merely one to be viewed in Manichean terms.  He doesn’t really deal with the Indian question is isolation, but how it has taken different turns over the decades.

In her collection, Jesus is Indian, Agnes Sam explores not only the life of the indentured labourer, but also the conflict within the community, as specially waged by the women who made the migration.  This journey is arguably different – as it appears in the narratives of Agnes Sam and also Farida Karodia.

Sam’s great grandparents came to South Africa from India.  One of her stories in this collection, titled And They Christened it Indenture, is about the resilience of those who made the long journey, and also the community that was forged from this journey, crossing ties of faith and region.  In her other stories she details in a wise compassionate manner, the hidden choices that women have to make – for they have to face domination not merely from the state but within the household too, which remained entirely male-dominated.

In High Heels, two friends, Lindiwe and Ruthie, make a pact.  Lindiwe says Ruthie can only have the right to wear high heels once she enters a secret room, which turns out to be a “secret” Hindu prayer room maintained by her mother, in a largely Christian house.

The title story has Angelina, a schoolgirl who constantly questions Sister Bonaventura, the nun who is her schoolteacher.  This is also a story about her sister, Honey – the travails of her sexuality in a conservative society and then about her mother (she calls her Hama) who worships Jesus in her native language and believes fervently he is Indian because he listens to her.  Hama also tries to bring Angelina into line because she isn’t “Indian” enough.

Sam’s more recent works have been The Pragashini-Smuts Affair and The Pragashini-Smuts Conspiracy, about the twists and turns of an interracial love relationship, a theme that resonates with other writers as well.

Sam was expelled from South Africa and moved to England; she returned for a while after the end of apartheid as did Farida Karodia, whose stories also highlight this unique women’s experience.

Farida Karodia’s  hauntingly sad story  Cardboard Mansions is about the burden a grandmother faces as she journeys to another faraway Indian settlement where she hopes her grandson will have open fields to play in. Karodia’s Daughters of the Twilight tells of a family expelled from Durban, following the Group Areas Act of 1950; it then finds itself the only Indian family in their new neighbourhood. This sense of distance is inevitably linked by the need to find some security and to belong. The book later became part of a trilogy which tells the saga of an Indian family over the generations.   The trilogy speaks about the volatility, the constant flux sensed by Indians in Africa, who have been, due to apartheid laws, displaced twice over.

Torn apart by race

Karodia is part of a new generation of novelists and writers who emerged after the 1940s and 1950s. The 1950s were a period of intense political activity as the government passed laws like the Group Areas Act, which segregated communities on racial lines and resulted in a large numbers of Indians being forcibly evicted from their homes and businesses in areas that were now declared “whites only”.

Ronnie Govender’s  At the Edge and Other Cato Manor Stories also features Durban. Cato Manor, a part of Durban, saw frequent demographic changes when the blacks moved in and rented land from Indian landlords, who had run small market gardens there.  But violence broke out once the Group Areas Act of 1950 was enacted, as Indians and others were forcibly moved to other places. Govender’s stories are vibrant with his use of colloquial language – he is also a playright.

Shunna "Sonny" Pillay is a jazz musician now based in the US, who wrote a novel, Shadow People, highlighting his own musical career in some senses. Dhava Aiengar is a promising pianist but his prospects appear thwarted simply because he happens to be Indian in apartheid South Africa. His movements are restricted, as are his choices about whom to live with and where. His life becomes one of constant evasion – dodging the police, rioters, even gangs run by Indians and white thugs. But he has friends who, regardless of their differences, stand by him. Their performances win them acclaim even as the shadow of apartheid hangs over them.

Aziz Hassim wrote about the Casbah and the area also known as Grey Street Complex in his The Lotus People, where the Indians of Durban lived before it was all displaced by the Group Areas Act of 1950.  This one is a generational story too, but interspersed with politics, and how governmental crackdowns forged a unique brotherhood among the boys of the area.  Despite the illegal acts they indulge in, these gangs become a united symbol of resistance to a cruel state.

In 2009, a year before his death, Hassim wrote his second novel, Revenge of Kali, which tells the tale of indentured Indian South Africans and the conflicts and differences within this society.

For writers, the quest has been political: Seeking a society beyond racial and cultural identity markers, but they grapple with questions about identity.  The nostalgia for the “home” country –India – is turned over and analysed.  These novels don’t hesitate to portray the inherent tyranny and conservativeness within the Indian community, a fact that has had an impact on the writers themselves.

For instance, Zainub Priya Dala, attacked by her own community for expressing her admiration for Rushdie’s writing, has written about Durban’s history in a book edited by Ashvin Desai and Goolam Vaheed, Chatsworth: The Making of a South African Township.  At the time of the attack on her, her first novel,  What About Meera? was due to be released.

Then there are also writers who have written about the post-apartheid South Africa, where identities and histories of the past have sprung new challenges about unity and belonging.  Achmat Dangor calls himself African, acknowledging that he has Dutch and Asian blood in him. His books, written in diverse styles, talk of how difficult it is to establish pureness in identity matters and the new conflicts that might arise in a post-racial times. Identity may have been overcome but not history.

Kaflka’s Curse takes on a popular legend when a gardener becomes a tree to be nearer the woman he loves.  In this book Omar Khan becomes Oscar Kahn, taking on a Jewish persona so as to marry a white woman.

The lingering past

Bitter Fruit made it into the Man Booker Prize shortlist. It is set in the late 1990s, a time at the end of Nelson Mandela’s presidency, with Thabo Mbeki as his successor. It is the time the Truth and Reconciliation Committee is to submit its report.

A former African National Congress activist, Silas Ali, son of a white Afrikaans mother and a Muslim father, is shattered when he realizes a truth brought out by the TRC’s findings. He learns it is François Du Boise, a white policeman, who had raped his wife Lydia 20 years earlier, while Ali had been locked up in a police van.

This past intrudes and violently ruptures into the Alis’s present. Their only son Mikey, who is a gifted university student, is incensed on learning this truth – that his father is Du Boise – and embarks on his own quest for revenge.  As with other post-apartheid South African novels such as J.M. Coetzee’s DisgraceBitter Fruit talks of such interracial transgressions and what this might mean for a new South Africa.

Yet another writer setting his tales in a tumultuous post-apartheid South Africa is Imraan Coovadia, whose books beginning with The Wedding cover a wide terrain.  Coovadia’s The Wedding – the love story of Ismet and Khateja – is actually a fictitious account of his grandparents’ journey from India to South Africa.

Khateja actually moves with her husband to South Africa, because she is too hot-headed to live in the same household as her mother in law, and the novel takes hilarious turns as Khateja learns to adapt to a new country and its new customs. More recently, his ambitious and daringly imaginative, Tales Of The  Metric System traces in interesting ways, South African history from 1970, when a professor who has been politically active finds himself threatened to more recent times in 2010 when South Africa hosted the World Cup in football.

We welcome your comments at
Sponsored Content BY 

Top picks, best deals and all that you need to know for the Amazon Great Indian Festival

We’ve done the hard work so you can get right to what you want amongst the 40,000+ offers across 4 days.

The Great Indian Festival (21st-24th September) by Amazon is back and it’s more tempting than ever. This edition will cater to everyone, with offers on a range of products from electronics, home appliances, apparel for men and women, personal care, toys, pet products, gourmet foods, gardening accessories and more. With such overwhelming choice of products and a dozen types of offers, it’s not the easiest to find the best deals in time to buy before your find gets sold out. You need a strategy to make sure you avail the best deals. Here’s your guide on how to make the most out of the Great Indian Festival:

Make use of the Amazon trio – Amazon Prime, Amazon Pay and Amazon app

Though the festival officially starts on 21st, Amazon Prime members will have early access starting at 12 noon on 20th September itself, enabling them to grab the best deals first. Sign up for an Amazon Prime account to not miss out on exclusive deals and products. Throughout the festival, Prime members will 30-minute early access to top deals before non-Prime members. At Rs 499/- a year, the Prime membership also brings unlimited Amazon Prime video streaming and quick delivery benefits.

Load your Amazon pay wallet; there’s assured 10% cashback (up to Rs 500). Amazon will also offer incremental cashbacks over and above bank cashbacks on select brands as a part of its Amazon Pay Offers. Shopping from the app would bring to you a whole world of benefits not available to non-app shoppers. App-only deals include flat Rs 1,250 off on hotels on shopping for more than Rs 500, and flat Rs 1,000 off on flights on a roundtrip booking of Rs 5,000 booking from Yatra. Ten lucky shoppers can also win one year of free travel worth Rs 1.5 lakhs.

Plan your shopping

The Great Indian Sale has a wide range of products, offers, flash sales and lightning deals. To make sure you don’t miss out on the best deals, or lose your mind, plan first. Make a list of things you really need or have been putting off buying. If you plan to buy electronics or appliances, do your research on the specs and shortlist the models or features you prefer. Even better, add them to your wishlist so you’re better able to track your preferred products.

Track the deals

There will be lightning deals and golden hour deals throughout the festival period. Keep track to avail the best of them. Golden-hour deals will be active on the Amazon app from 9.00pm-12.00am, while Prime users will have access to exclusive lightning deals. For example, Prime-only flash sales for Redmi 4 will start at 2.00pm and Redmi 4A at 6.00pm on 20th, while Nokia 6 will be available at Rs 1,000 off. There will be BOGO Offers (Buy One Get One free) and Bundle Offers (helping customers convert their TVs to Smart TVs at a fraction of the cost by using Fire TV Stick). Expect exclusive product launches from brands like Xiaomi (Mi Band 2 HRX 32 GB), HP (HP Sprocket Printer) and other launches from Samsung and Apple. The Half-Price Electronics Store (minimum 50% off) and stores offering minimum Rs 15,000 off will allow deal seekers to discover the top discounts.

Big discounts and top picks

The Great Indian Festival is especially a bonanza for those looking to buy electronics and home appliances. Consumers can enjoy a minimum of 25% off on washing machines, 20% off on refrigerators and 20% off on microwaves, besides deals on other appliances. Expect up to 40% off on TVs, along with No-Cost EMI and up to Rs 20,000 off on exchange.

Home Appliances

Our top picks for washing machines are Haier 5.8 Kg Fully Automatic Top Loading at 32% off, and Bosch Fully Automatic Front Loading 6 Kg and 7 Kg, both available at 27% discount. Morphy Richards 20 L Microwave Oven will be available at a discount of 38%.

Our favorite pick on refrigerators is the large-sized Samsung 545 L at 26% off so you can save Rs 22,710.

There are big savings to be made on UV water purifiers as well (up to 35% off), while several 5-star ACs from big brands will be available at greater than 30% discount. Our top pick is the Carrier 1.5 Ton 5-star split AC at 32% off.

Personal Electronics

There’s good news for Apple fans. The Apple MacBook Air 13.3-inch Laptop 2017 will be available at Rs 55,990, while the iPad will be available at 20% off. Laptops from Lenovo, Dell and HP will be available in the discount range of 20% to 26%. Top deals are Lenovo Tab3 and Yoga Tab at 41% to 38% off. Apple fans wishing to upgrade to the latest in wearable technology can enjoy Rs 8,000 off on the Apple Watch series 2 smartwatch.

If you’re looking for mobile phones, our top deal pick is the LG V20 at Rs 24,999, more than Rs 5000 off from its pre-sale price.

Power banks always come in handy. Check out the Lenovo 13000 mAh power bank at 30% off.

Home printers are a good investment for frequent flyers and those with kids at home. The discounted prices of home printers at the festival means you will never worry about boarding passes and ID documents again. The HP Deskjet basic printer will be available for Rs 1,579 at 40% off and multi-function (printer/ scanner/ Wi-Fi enabled) printers from HP Deskjet and Canon will also available at 33% off.

The sale is a great time to buy Amazon’s native products. Kindle E-readers and Fire TV Stick will be on sale with offers worth Rs 5,000 and Rs 1,000 respectively.

The Amazon Fire Stick
The Amazon Fire Stick

For those of you who have a bottomless collection of movies, music and photos, there is up to 60% off on hard drives and other storage devices. Our top picks are Rs 15,000 and Rs 12,000 off on Seagate Slim 5TB and 4TB hard drives respectively, available from 8.00am to 4.00pm on 21st September.

The sale will see great discounts of up to 60% off on headphones and speakers from the top brands. The 40% off on Bose QC 25 Headphones is our favourite. Top deals are on Logitech speakers with Logitech Z506 Surround Sound 5.1 multimedia Speakers at 60% off and Logitech X300 Bluetooth Speaker at 58% off!

Other noteworthy deals

Cameras (up to 55% off) and camera accessories such as tripods, flash lights etc. are available at a good discount. Home surveillance cameras too will be cheaper. These include bullet cameras, dome cameras, simulated cameras, spy cameras and trail and game cameras.

For home medical supplies and equipment, keep an eye on the grooming and personal care section. Weighing scales, blood pressure monitors, glucometers, body fat monitors etc. will be available at a cheaper price.

The sale is also a good time to invest in home and kitchen supplies. Mixer-grinders and juicers could see lightning deals. Don’t ignore essentials like floor mops with wheels, rotating mop replacements, utensils, crockery etc. Tupperware sets, for example, will be more affordable. There are attractive discounts on bags, especially laptop bags, backpacks, diaper bags and luggage carriers.

Interesting finds

While Amazon is extremely convenient for need-based shopping and daily essentials, it is also full of hidden treasures. During the festival, you can find deals on telescopes, polaroid cameras, smoothie makers, gym equipment, gaming consoles and more. So you’ll be able to allow yourself some indulgences!

Small shopping

If you have children, the festival is good time to stock up on gifts for Diwali, Christmas, return gifts etc. On offer are gaming gadgets such as Xbox, dough sets, Touching Tom Cat, Barbies, classic board games such as Life and more. There are also some products that you don’t really need, but kind of do too, such as smartphone and tablet holders, magnetic car mounts for smartphones and mobile charging station wall stands. If you’re looking for enhanced functionality in daily life, do take a look at the Amazon Basics page. On it you’ll find USB cables, kitchen shears, HDMI cables, notebooks, travel cases and other useful things you don’t realise you need.

Check-out process and payment options

Amazon is also offering an entire ecosystem to make shopping more convenient and hassle-free. For the festival duration, Amazon is offering No-Cost EMIs (zero interest EMIs) on consumer durables, appliances and smartphones, plus exchange schemes and easy installation services in 65 cities. HDFC card holders can avail additional 10% cashback on HDFC credit and debit cards. Customers will also get to “Buy Now and Pay in 2018” with HDFC Credit Cards, as the bank offers a 3 Month EMI Holiday during the days of the sale. Use Amazon Pay balance for fast and easy checkouts, quicker refunds and a secured shopping experience.

Sales are fun and with The Great Indian Festival offering big deals on big brands, it definitely calls for at least window shopping. There’s so much more than the above categories, like minimum 50% off on American Tourister luggage! To start the treasure hunt, click here.

This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of and not by the Scroll editorial team.