Seminar: South Africa to India – Narratives of a Century of Repatriation (1871-1975)

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Afrika Studiecentrum, Leiden, 12 September 2019

This seminar focuses on the repatriation of Indians from South Africa, first under indentured labour contracts, and then under modified schemes applicable to all Indians between 1914 and 1975.

While it is well-known that 80,000 Indians were unceremoniously expelled from Uganda in 1972, there has been less recognition of South Africa’s steady policy of repatriation over a century that saw more than this number leave South Africa.

The Ugandan expulsions were dramatic, immediate and stigmatizing, with most exiles heading to the United Kingdom rather than India.

South Africa’s policy by comparison was slow and seemingly voluntary. Yet, its effects on repatriates were equally dramatic and irreversible.

The historiography of Indian South Africans prioritizes movement of Indians to South Africa; here the focus is on reverse movement to India and the impact on repatriates.

Repatriates in Calcutta, circa 1929-1930. Source: B.D. Sannyasi and B. Chaturvedi, A Report on the Emigrants Repatriated to India under the Assisted Emigration Scheme from South Africa and On the Problem of Returned Emigrants from All the Colonies (Pravasi-Bhavan: Bhawani Dayal Sannyasi, 1931)

This seminar analyses narratives of repatriation that emerge from official sources in India and South Africa, including petitions and letters from repatriates and contemporary observations of public figures.

It then shifts to Cape Town repatriates thus drawing Cape Town more closely into the field of Indian Ocean mobilities, but also firmly into the historiography of Indian South Africans, hitherto predominantly focused on [the former] Natal and the Transvaal, thus offering an alternative narrative to the dominant one of coercion and suffering.

The seminar will be hosted by two ASCL Collaborative Research Groups: “Africa in the World” and “Rethinking African History”.

The speaker, Uma Dhupelia-Mesthrie, is a Senior Professor in the Department of History at the University of the Western Cape, where she also served as Deputy Dean for Research in the Arts Faculty.

Her research interests include forced removals and land restitution but it is in the field of India-South Africa connected histories that she has received considerable recognition.

She is author/editor of From Cane Fields to Freedom: A Chronicle of Indian South African Life (Cape Town, Kwela Books, 2000); Sita: Memoirs of Sita Gandhi (Pretoria and Durban, Local History Museums and South African History on Line, 2003); Gandhi’s Prisoner? The Life of Gandhi’s Son, Manilal (Cape Town, Kwela Books, 2004).

In 2014, she edited an issue of Kronos: Southern African Histories titled Paper Regimes. Her recent publications have focused on India-South Africa mobilities with an emphasis on paper systems and controls at the port.

She is currently writing a biography of Gandhi’s Phoenix Settlement told through letters.


Date, time and location:
12 September 2019, 15h30 – 17h00
Pieter de la Courtgebouw
Faculty of Social Sciences
Wassenaarseweg 52
2333 AK Leiden
Room 1A37 (first floor)
Registration: Click here to register for this event


Buro: IG
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