Descendants of Indian indentured labourers have asked police to open an inquest into the murder of Selvan Guruvadu and others during the 1913 Natal Strike.
Calling themselves Activists for Selvan Inquest (Asijiki), they made the request on Monday – almost 105 years to the day Guruvadu was killed on the Mount Edgecombe sugar estate.
An assegai (spear) was used to stab him before he was shot. Guruvadu was part of a strike which Indian mineworkers and those living on the sugar plantations embarked on. At the time, the strike brought the economy of Natal (as it was then known), to a complete standstill.
Plantation manager Colin Campbell was charged with the murder but he was later acquitted in the Verulam Magistrate’s Court.
Nothing new in reopening inquests
“It was very unusual for cases of this type to be brought before court. The case is also one of the few where detailed records exist in the form of court papers that will be valuable to SAPS (the SA Police Service) investigators and the National Prosecuting Authority,” Asijiki spokesperson Kiru Naidoo said.
He added: “The idea of the reopening of inquests is not new. We have seen this in the Ahmed Timol case, which has given a measure of relief to the families now that the matter has gone to court.”
Complainant in the matter, Gary Govindsamy, said they “owe this to our brutalised people so that their souls can rest in peace”.
Naidoo said the group believed that companies such as Tongaat Hulett, which have been beneficiaries of indenture, have a responsibility for atonement and reparation.
Profiteering from labourers’ blood
He said townships bordering Mount Edgecombe, such as Phoenix, Inanda, KwaMashu and Ntuzuma, had a great need for job creation and development that benefited the people.
He likened the massive residential and business developments on the former sugar estates to profiteering from the blood and labour of the people who worked in the plantations.
“They need to put back and we hope that opening cases like these draws attention to a history that some people would rather leave buried. We must keep in mind that the people who worked the plantations were both Indian and African, some of whom were brought from as far afield as Mozambique. All those communities need redress of one sort of the other.”
Naidoo said the campaign for Guruvadu would serve as a test for inquests into the deaths during the Sharpeville Massacre, the Soweto Uprising, the 1946 Mineworkers’ Strike and the 1946 Passive Resistance.
“Asijiki is confident that their campaign will bring out more untold stories, educate the current generation of South Africans and force business to be accountable for past injustices.”