Indentured monument finally a go

Indentured monument finally a go

After a 13-year delay, the KwaZulu-Natal Department of Sport, Arts and Culture announced this week that the tender for the R4-million 1860 Indian indenture monument had finally been awarded to a service provider and that construction was imminent.

The monument will be erected at uShaka Beach (next to the uShaka Marine World parking lot).

Director at the department, Vusi Shongwe, said they had been mandated in 2022 to manage the procurement process of finding a service provider to execute the design which had been finalised by the 1860 Commemoration Monument Committee.

Reacting to claims that there has been conflict over the design – whether it should be abstract or a statue of a cane cutter – Shongwe said the public had been given opportunities through public adverts to make submissions to the monument committee.

He added they were “happy that the process had been transparently concluded in line with the department’s regulations”.

Shongwe told the POST yesterday that there had been various factors that had delayed the project for 13 years.

These included historical differences of opinions on the form of the design for the monument, the Covid-19 lockdown, a few administrative stumbling blocks and incomplete submissions by service providers.

“We are happy to announce that these processes are now a thing of the past and that a service provider is ready to begin work on the monument,” added Shongwe.

He added that details of the service provider would be announced in coming weeks.

Construction is expected to commence in three weeks with steel works at the monument site.

The tender documents on the governments e-tender website describe the monument as an “Arch of Unity, Bell Tower”.

Among other design elements, the document noted that “the bell tower was used during times of slavery and indenture for masters to ring the bell to call workers to work and end their day with ringing the bell. This bell tower was found throughout South African plantations”.

A bell tower currently exists in Brake Village, Tongaat.

“There is also a bronze plaque at the Shree Emperumal Temple in Mount Edgecombe, which can be incorporated into this design and act as a point of remembrance,” the document stated.

“The brass bell will have the names of the two ship passengers engraved on it. It will be kept at the 1860 Heritage Centre and brought out on the 16 and 26 November to allow the public to ring the bell in a symbolic ceremony each year. Each year our elders and children can come out to ring the bell in remembering our ancestors. The monument will incorporate the two ships with the names of the passengers laser cut on two metal sheets representing the hull of the Truro and Belvedere.”

The document stated that the incorporation of elements of the Zulu kraal as a design feature with the aesthetic wooden tree branches (made of concrete) pay tribute to the Zulu nation.

“It brings in the element of social cohesion and will ensure that this monument is not exclusively Indian. It is a peoples’ monument made with simple material that honours a workers’ history”.

Selvan Naidoo, director of the 1860 Heritage Centre, said: “We are comforted to know that this tribute to indentured workers will finally be done by our democratic government.”

Seelan Achary, who sat on the committee as a representative of the 1860 Commemoration Council for more than 11 years, said he was invited to a meeting last week where he saw the final monument design for the first time.

“The original draft plans for the monument were submitted as early as 2011 to the Premier’s Office. That monument design that I saw does not speak to the arrival of the Indian indentured labourers.

“We had submitted a proposal – a monument of a sugar cane cutter and his wife in a sugar cane field, with a child on her back. This was originally envisioned incorporating aspects of unity and allegiance under one South African flag. This is what we wanted to unite our people under,” said Achary

He added that a new committee had been formed and their inputs had been ignored.

“This new design does not reflect the true endured history and is not rooted in fact. The bell and bell tower in temples was for religious purposes. However, this bell tower is a symbol of colonialist architecture and oppression. Should we be glorifying that? They have ignored 11 years of submissions to satisfy a new narrative,” said Achary.

Ishwar Ramlutchman, who had served on the original committee, also rejected the design.

“There was no public participation across the province. The committee was changed and they just decided to go with a certain design.”

“In my view this new design takes us back to the colonial past,” he said.

Ravi Pillay, former MEC for Economic Development and Tourism, said it was pleasing that the appointment of the service provider had been finalised and construction was due to begin.

“The delays have been well documented. Matters of historical interpretation and artistic representation will always generate diverse views and opinions. Sometimes artists want to provoke discussion and debate. Some even prefer abstract representation.

“It is important to conclude the project as soon as possible and it must be a project that must be embraced by all in our diverse society. It must be built on our motto of ‘unity in diversity’,” said Pillay.

Professor Goolam Vahed said this was a long overdue process.

“I do hope that this time the project will be completed. Delays were due to a combination of factors: the difficulty in securing a suitable site, cumbersome bureaucracy, and differences between the architects and the project committee over the design. Moving forward the project would need total commitment from all stakeholders.”

Ela Gandhi, a South African peace activist, said the idea of the monument was to acknowledge the arrival of Indians to South Africa and the suffering they endured.