ape Town: A special radio broadcast in Hindi marked the 70th anniversary of the establishment of the Hindi Shiksha Sangh of South Africa with Indians recalling the tribulations of their forebears in ensuring the survival of the language and their culture in the African country.
The Academic Director of the Sangh, Professor Rambhajun Sitaram, outlined the history of the organisation on Radio Hindvani, the only radio station broadcasting exclusively in Hindi in South Africa.
Scores of listeners shared memories, including recalling the trials and tribulations of their forebears in ensuring the survival of the language and culture of the thousands of Hindi-speaking migrants who came to South Africa from 1860 onwards as indentured labourers.
Hopes of a prosperous new life promised to the migrants were dashed as they toiled seven days a week from sunrise to sunset in the fields for meagre wages and rations at the hands of abusive and exploitative white farmers.
Despite this, pooling their few resources, the first settlers built temples and schools without government support, some of them are still in use today across the country. But their home languages, including Hindi, received scant attention until more than 80 years later when Pandit Nardev Vedalankar arrived from India in November 1947.
Vedalankar, revered as the Father of Hindi in South Africa despite being of Gujarati origin, immediately recognised the need to unify a distraught Indian community beset with a mixture of African and Western practices amid their own cultural and religious practices.
Coordinating efforts with the already established Arya Samaj and Sanathan Dharma, Vedalankar founded the Hindi Shiksha Sangh of South Africa on April 25, 1948.
The stated objective of the organisation was to promote Hindi, irrespective of religious beliefs, among all South Africans, whether from India or elsewhere, irrespective of their religious beliefs or practices, with total respect for their traditions, beliefs and cultures.
From humble beginnings in a rented flat in Durban, the Sangh today has an impressive headquarters building in the mainly Indian township of Chatsworth in Durban, as well as branches all over the country where volunteers teach Hindi to students of all ages.
The Sangh offers Hindi studies from Bal Vihaar to Kovid and Hindi Shikshan Paddhati (Hindi teacher techniques) programmes.
In 2014, the Sangh co-hosted the 10th World Hindi Conference in Johannesburg, the first time the event took place on the African continent, attracting almost 1,000 participants from the Indian diaspora.