Indian South Africans Timeline: 1654-1899


Slaves from India and South East Asia are introduced to the Cape.


A number of Indians arrive in Cape Town from Bencoolen. A certain Mr Hare provides security that they will not be a financial burden to the Colony, brings them to the Cape.


August, Natal becomes a British Crown Colony — ruled from the Cape


By this year the first Indians, had been introduced to Natal by E.R. Rathbone.


The Natal Charter of 1856 is proclaimed. Natal receives representative self-government. Most councillors in the Legislature are elected but the Government appoints the executive. The right to vote is based on property qualification.


After protracted negotiations between the Natal Government and the Secretary of State for the Colonies, the Natal Coolie Law, Law No. 14 of 1859 is passed. This law makes it possible for the Natal Colony to introduce Indians as indentured labour, with labourers having the option to return to India at the end of the five-year period, in which case a free passage would be provided. The system also provides for the labourers to re-indenture for a further five-year period, which would make them eligible to settle permanently in the Colony. Upon completion of their indenture, the indentured Indian labourers are also entitled to a gift of crown land and full citizenship rights. This proviso was later withdrawn with the proclamation of Act No. 25 of 1891, in order to discourage the settlement of Indians in Natal.


16 November, the first batch of 342 indentured Indian labourers arrives in Durban on board the Truro.

26 November, the second batch of 310 indentured Indian labourers arrive in Durban on board the Belvedere from Calcutta (now Kolkata), India.


The first Indian owned shop was opened by Bauboo Naidoo, an interpreter, in Field Street, Durban for the sale of condiments and other food items not included in the rations issued by law to indentured workers.


The first “passenger Indians” arrive in Durban. The appellation “passenger Indians” refers to Indian immigrant traders, artisans, teachers, shop assistants etc. who paid their own passage to the Natal Colony.

2 October, Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi is born to Karamchand Utamchand (Kaba) and Putlibai Gandhi in Porbander, India.


Aboobaker Haji Ahmed Jhaveri, one of the first passenger Indian traders, arrives in Natal in this year.

The Coolie Consolidation Amendment Act, Law No. 12 of 1872 makes provision for a Protector of Indian Immigrants, abolishes flogging for breaches of the Masters and Servants Act and the improvement of medical treatment for Indian immigrants.

25 November, Colonel Price-Lloyd is appointed as the first Protector of Indian Immigrants.  He begins to build up a suitable administrative system in order to give effect to Law No. 12 of 1872.


At a time of extreme labour shortage, the Cape Colonial Government investigates the possibilities of importing labour from India or China for the construction of a railway, but eventually decides in favour of using African labour.

22 January, The Immigration Trust Board is established in Natal under Law No. 208 of 1874.


June, Aboobaker Amod, a Memon trader from Porbander establishes himself as the first ‘Arab’ trader in Natal, operating a store in West Street


The Free State Republic passes legislation allowing Indians to enter the Republic with the understanding that they have no permanent right of residence.


The first recorded passenger Indians travelling to the diamond fields of Griqualand West, near Kimberley in the Cape Colony, arrive in Port Elizabeth from India, via Mauritius. The names of three Indians, Tamarand, Tandryer and Vennellas, appear on the voter's roll for the District of Kimberley in the Cape Colony.


Passenger Indians begin to arrive in considerable numbers on the diamond fields of Griqualand West, near Kimberley in the Cape Colony.

Passenger Indians also begin to arrive in Table Bay, Cape Town, taking up employment in Cape Town and surrounding areas.


7 April, Albert Christopher is born in Durban to indentured migrants who had arrived in the 1860s. His father, Narrainsamy Paupiah, arrived from Chingleput, India on the Earl of Hardwick in September 1863. His mother Lutchmee Goorvadoo arrived on the Saxon, in August 1864 from Chittoor, India. Christopher worked closely with Gandhi and was involved in several attempts to provide a platform for the political voice of colonial born Indians to be heard. He was also involved in a host of sports, education, and social welfare organisations until his death on 24 November 1960

The first discriminatory legislation directed at Indians, Law No. 3 of 1885, is passed in the South African Republic (Transvaal).

This law shall apply to the persons belonging to any of the native races of Asia, including so-called Coolies, Arabs, Malays, and Mohammedan subjects of the Turkish Empire.

Law No. 3 of 1885: With regard to the persons mentioned in Article One the following provisions shall apply:

a. They cannot obtain burgher rights of the South African Republic (Transvaal).

b. They cannot be owners of fixed property in the Republic except only in such streets, wards and locations as the Government for purposes of sanitation shall assign to them to live in.

c. They shall be inscribed in a Register, if they settled with the object of trading.

d. The government shall have the right for purposes of sanitation, to assign to them certain streets, wards and locations to live in. This provision does not apply to those who live with employers.

Sir Henry Ernest Bulwer appoints a commission under Justice Walter Thomas Wragg to investigate the position of Natal Indian immigrants and the impact of new Indian immigrants on the Natal Colony. The Commission delivers its report in 1887. 

By 1885 about 200 indentured Indians from Natal, who absconded from their employers, are living in Port Elizabeth.


There are between 700 and 1000 Indians working on the diamond fields of Griqualand West, near Kimberley in the Cape Colony.


The Registration of Servants Act, Law No. 2 of 1888 is passed in Natal. This law classifies Indians as members of an “uncivilised race” and they are hence liable to register. Free Indians are also forced to carry passes or court arrest.

The South African Republic rejects a British Indian petition and places the Asiatics in the same category as the indigenous African population, i.e. as labourers.


In the Orange Free State, the “Law to Provide against the Influx of Asiatics and the Removal of White Criminals Entering This State from Elsewhere”, Act No. 29 of 1890, is passed. There are only 9 licenced Indian traders in the Free State at this time.


The Statute Law of the Orange Free State prohibits an Arab, a Chinaman, an Indian or any other Asiatic or coloured person from conducting business or farming in the Orange Free State. All Indian businesses are forced to close by 11 September 1891 and the owners are deported from the State without compensation. At least three members of the Coovadia family are among those people expelled.


The British Indian Political Association is established by Indian residents of Kimberley to oppose the threat of special class legislation adverse to their interests.

Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi arrives in Durban from India to represent Seth Dada Abdullah, a wealthy Muslim business and community leader, in a legal suit against his cousin.


The Franchise Bill, aiming to disenfranchise Indians, is introduced in Natal. This issue initiates

M. K. Gandhi's political career and leads to the founding of the first South African (SA) Indian political organisation, the Natal Indian Congress (NIC).

A critical shortage of agricultural labour leads to the appointment of the Labour Commission by the Cape Colonial Government. The Commission comes out strongly against the idea of importing labour from India and China.

22 August, the Natal Indian Congress (NIC) is formed with Dada Abdullah Haji Adam as Chairperson and Gandhi as secretary. As a result of NIC-led protests against the Franchise Act, the British Government does not sanction the Act, but the Act is reintroduced in 1896.


Through the promulgation of the Indian Immigration Law Amendment Act, Law No. 17 of 1895, the Colony of Natal imposes a £3 ‘penalty' tax on ex-indentured Indians who fail to re-indenture or return to India after completion of their labour contracts. In 1903, the Act is extended to girls aged 13 and older and boys aged 16 and older.


The Franchise Act, Act No 8 of 1896, disenfranchises Indians. Africans were disenfranchised in 1865. Only three Africans and 251 Indians ever acquired voting rights in Natal. In 1896, there were 9309 White voters registered in Natal.

In the Cape Colony all male British subjects, regardless of colour, possess the franchise subject to an educational and income or property qualification. Indians as Non-Whites could both stand for election and send members to Parliament.

In the South African Republic (Transvaal) and Orange Free State Republic, male suffrage is confined to Whites only.

17 April, the Tongaat Sugar Company successfully applies to the Natal Immigration Trust Board to indenture artisans from India.

18 September, The European Protection Association is set up in Pietermaritzburg and calls for the limitation of Indian immigration and the compulsory repatriation of time-expired indentured labourers.

26 November, Europeans hold an anti-Indian mass meeting in Durban. At the meeting, they condemn

M K Gandhi and set up the Colonial Patriotic Union.


A wood and iron barracks was erected in the vicinity of the Sea Point Railways (Cape Town) for 500 coolies employed at the docks.

A petition is taken up by the townspeople of East London in protest against the influx of Asiatics into the town.

The lmmigration Restriction Act (Natal) and its subsequent amendments in 1900, 1903, and 1906 imposes an educational, health, age and means test against Indians, other than indentured workers, seeking admission to the country, or entry to the Transvaal and Cape. This Act virtually stops all further immigration of free Indians into the colony.

The Dealers Licenses Act, Act No 18 of 1897 is proclaimed in Natal. In terms of this Act, licensing officers are empowered to issue or refuse licenses to Indian traders.

Act No. 3 of 1897 prohibits the marriage of Whites with persons of colour in the South African Republic (Transvaal).

7 May, the Natal Indian Congress (NIC) collects £1 539 1s. 9d. from South African Indians for famine relief in India.


Act No. 15 of 1898 prohibits any person of colour from being a licence holder, or to be in any way connected with the workings of the diggings in the South African Republic (Transvaal).

8 August, Indians lose a test case in the Transvaal High Court, which rules that Law 3 of 1883 restricts both their residential and trading rights to Indian locations.


The Regulations for Towns are proclaimed in the South African Republic (Transvaal). It states that persons of colour are prohibited from walking on the sidewalks (pavements), or stoeps serving as a sidewalk, of the streets of its towns.

'Coolie locations' are established for Indians in Transvaal, most notably Fordsburg, Braamfontein and Jeppestown in Johannesburg, the area along the Sterkfontein Road in Krugersdorp, and the Asiatic Bazaar in Prinsloo and Church Streets in Pretoria. In addition, locations were also established in Klerksdorp and Potchefstroom.


24 March, The Transvaal agent to British High Commissioner reports that the total Indian population in the South African Republic numbers approximately 17,000 and that of this number about 5,500 are merchants and hawkers.

11 October, Beginning of the Anglo Boer War/South African War. Blacks are evacuated from the Transvaal. The majority of Indians leave for Cape and Natal Colonies, Mozambique and India.

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