Sarita Boodhoo

The South African Connection

GOPIO’s 10th International Convention in Durban – A success on several fronts


— Sarita Boodhoo


The tenth International Convention of GOPIO held in Durban from 28 to 31 March 2010 was a historical landmark which also coincided with the 150thanniversary celebration of the advent of Indian Indentured workers in Natal. Over 200 delegates from 15 countries including Mauritius, Malaysia, Sri Lanka, India, UK, Reunion, Island, Australia attended the convention. The theme of the convention was “Turning Historical Adversity into Advantage.”

Mauritius and Sri Lanka had the largest overseas delegations. More than 25 delegates from Mauritius attended, led by Mauritius and International GOPIO President Mahen Utchanah. Delegates included Secretary General Roy Dookhony, former Permanent Secretary; Treasurer Rohit Teelockdharry; President of Human Service Trust Premchand Boojhawon, writers Anand Mulloo and Chit Dukhira; Radha Nunkoo, GOPIO International Co-ordinator; artist Daya Mungra and her husband, Soumer Tupsy formerly of Mauritius Tourism Promotion Authority, Mr Lutchmoodoo Goraya Reddy, senior cadre of the MGI; Mr Sanassy Ramanah; Ravi Sembhoo, Mr and Mrs Jayedut Sobaran, Shyam Cheekooree, Deva Mooneesamy – businessmen and social workers, and a cultural team headed by Ravita Sallick-Peetumber.

The credit for the Mauritian effort goes to Mahen Utchanah for having worked patiently, diligently and laboriously over several months to have this historic meet in Durban. He was able to achieve this synergy with the selfless collaboration of Professor Dasarath Chetty, Pro Vice Chancellor of the University of Kwazulu, Natal and President of GOPIO, South Africa who rallied around him a good number of efficient and prominent personalities of Natal. These included among others freedom fighter and struggle veteran Sunny Singh who was imprisoned with Nelson Mandela on Robben Island, Advocate Kresen Moodley, Richard Naidoo, Prof Anand Singh, prominent Natal businessmen, Kris Gokhool and Iswar Mangaroo, events co-ordinator Molly Manilall and Abeydhanand Beejan, Mauritian music teacher settled in Durban.

The convention was opened by a gala evening on 28 March at the Durban City Hall where speeches were given by Prince Mangosuthu Buthelezi, MP and President of the Inkatha Freedom Party, veteran struggle activist Dr Ahmed Kathrada, Mauritian Minister Anil Baichoo, Hon Anil Saran, Consul General of India in Durban, Deputy Ministers Ebrahim Ebrahim, Roy Padayachie, Deputy Mayor Logie Naidoo, P.P. Devraj Chairman of Sir Lanka GOPIO and International Chairman; Ela Gandhi, grand daughter of Mahatma Gandhi. The name of late Fatima Meer, struggle activist and great intellectual came on the lips of one and all.

The three-day convention held at Elangeni Hotel had 67 distinguished speakers and academicians delivering high calibre papers on a wide range of carefully selected topics ranging from history, race, social change to business, identity, education and language, non-racial sport, youth and nation-building, women and families as well as investment opportunities in India and Mauritius. Eighteen sessions were held in all.

The closing ceremony held at the prestigious International Convention Centre on 31 March had the distinguished presence of His Majesty King Zwelithini Goodwill of Bhekuzulu of Maphumzana of Dinuzulu, Kwazula, Natal and the Queen; Kwazulu Natal Premier Dr Zweli Mkhize, Deputy Mayor Logie Naidoo and the Indian Consul-General Shri Anil Saran.

The academic sessions were highlighted by cultural evenings of spectacular choreography including Bharat Natyam presentation from Sri Lanka and Leeds, UK; “Children of Africa” dance by child artists  of Manormani Dance Academy, bhajans by physically challenged Rakesh Soni accompanied by Yashin Luckan, and items by Nateshwar Dance Academy. The Rasika Dance Academy of Ravita Sallick-Petumber and her dynamic dance team excelled and created a great and lasting impression throughout the four-day programme as well as in tours organised in various towns with dense Indian population such as Greytown and the Mahatma Gandhi Phoenix Settlement by Molly Manilall and Abheydanan Beejan of the Sangeet Vidya Institute, S.A.

Businessmen, freedom struggle veterans, socialites in their stunning saris and Indian outfits with men donning their sherwanis and Nehru suits and local and international delegates all created an excitingly warm atmosphere for networking, exchange of ideas and celebrating the rich Indian heritage. Indeed, both King Zwelithini and the Premier Mkhize praised the South African Indian community’s contribution to the struggle for freedom and cultural mosaic of South Africa.

Shri Anil Saran, Indian Consul General in Durban announced that the next mini Pravasi Bharatiya Divas would be held in Durban on October 2nd to coincide with the birthday of Mahatma Gandhi, the greatest Pravasi (non-resident Indian) who spent 21 years in South Africa as an intrepid young lawyer where he developed and tested his Satyagraha principles which would eventually make of him the great Mahatma.

Later on this year, the 1860 Settlers Association headed by former GOPIO President and prominent South African businessman Kris Gokhool would be celebrating the 150th anniversary of Indian Indentures’ arrival in Natal from 12 to 14 November. The first batch of indentured labourers arrived in Durban Harbour on Friday 16 November 1860 on board the ships “Belvedere” and “Truro”. The Truro had 341 Indians on board. Total number of indentured labourers arriving in Durban from 1860 to 1911, when the system was finally terminated was 152,184. The Indian labourers were employed mainly in sugarcane, coalmining, in railways and as domestic aids. With over one million people of Indian origin, South Africa has clearly one of the largest Indian diasporas abroad. Cultural and business exchanges assume great importance in terms of interaction.

As Inkatha leader Prince Buthelezi said: “The fact that this 10th GOPIO Convention is being held on South African soil is significant, in that this year we commemorate the 150th anniversary of the arrival in South Africa of the first Indian Indentured labourers. That is now a part of our collective history, part of all that shaped the democratic and liberated South Africa we enjoy today… It is therefore not so strange that I, a Zulu should open the plenary session on a convention such as this… The history of the Indian community in South Africa and the history of the Zulu Nation are intertwined in a shared South African history, built on a shared struggle for freedom, recognition and equal rights.”

As for the King Zwelithini Goodwill, he was happy that GOPIO has selected the right year – that of the International Year of Soccer to celebrate Indian advent in South Africa. He said society is lucky to have “people who are born to rise above to shine and to resist injustice”. He added that GOPIO has people who work diligently for the uplift of minorities. In a message he said: “The history and culture on which GOPIO is based serve as an anchor for your strength and hope. The history connects you to your forefathers and foremothers… In this part of the world our lives have been interwoven for centuries. Since your organisation highlights the significance of culture, I would like to pay accolades to our forerunners who managed to maintain colourful and distinct cultures that did not interfere with the beliefs and practices of different groups that co-existed… The result of that collective living characterised by a variety of cultures is what immediately strikes visitors to our Province… GOPIO is in a strong position to herald a myriad of stories of struggles for human liberation… Any convention of this kind would be incomplete without honouring an icon like Mahatma Gandhi… What he did for mankind is legendary.”

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