Durban to host Africa diaspora conference

August 5th, 2010 - 3:39 pm ICT by IANS  

By Lakshmi Krishnakumar
New Delhi, Aug 5 (IANS) Come October and the Indian diaspora in Africa will converge for the Mini Pravasi Bharatiya Divas (PBD) in Durban, marking the city’s historic links with India and aiming to “build bridges” between them and their country of origin.

The event, titled ‘PBD-Africa’, is to be held in the South African city Oct 1-2 on the occasion of Gandhi Jayanti, the birth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi. The year also marks the 150th anniversary of the arrival of the first indentured sugarcane labourers from India whose descendants have today risen to become flourishing entrepreneurs.

Durban was “appropriately” chosen not just for its largest population of Indian diaspora in South Africa but for the history India shares with the city, said A. Didar Singh, secretary, overseas Indian affairs ministry.

“South Africa, and more so Durban, was chosen for the birth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi (Oct 2) as there is a strong connection between the two countries through Gandhiji,” Singh told IANS in an interview.

“He started his Satyagraha (championing of truth) movement in Durban. It all felt appropriate; so that will be the right time,” Singh said.

It was in South Africa that Gandhi’s transformation from Mohandas to Mahatma took place.

History has it that in 1893 when Gandhi landed in Durban, he learnt of the oppressive atmosphere of racial discrimination against Indians settled in South Africa. His struggle began with the Satyagraha movement there.

Gandhi’s struggle in South Africa saw success in 1914, before he returned to India, in an agreement between him and the South African government in which the main Indian demands against racial and class discriminations were conceded.

“Gandhiji’s birthday is of great significance to our event with the great history behind it…This occasion will help the different sections of overseas Indians to find areas of common interest, including their culture and roots,” Overseas Indian Affairs Minister Vayalar Ravi told IANS.

The African continent is home to three million people of Indian origin, of which 1.5 million live in South Africa alone.

Informing that the mini PBDs are held region-wise and not country-wise, Singh said the mini PBD-Africa will be attended by delegates from across the 54-nation continent.

He said experts and speakers from both India and Africa will also be there for all the sessions. “We are targeting about 500 delegates from Africa and about 15-20 delegates from India,” Singh said.

It will commence Oct 1 in Durban’s historical City Hall, with a formal inauguration jointly by Premier Zweli Mkhize of KwaZulu-Natal province and Indian minister Ravi.

The hall chosen for the event was built in Renaissance style in 1910, and 2010 marks its 100th year, making it the perfect venue for PBD-Africa.

The inauguration will follow a cultural evening sponsored by the Indian Council for Cultural Relations (ICCR), with performances by Indian artists, projecting Indian art and culture.

The main sessions of the conference will begin the second day with Gandhi’s invocation prayers and hymns in Durban’s International Convention Centre (ICC), a prestigious venue.

The first session of the conference will be on Gandhi, followed by sessions on business and trade, issues of diaspora youth, issue of gender - of diaspora women in multicultural society - and the role of the diaspora in the context of economic compulsions of globalisation.

“The concept is that the diaspora is the resource that can build bridges between African countries and India, between the diaspora and India, and between the diaspora and the countries where they reside,” Singh said.

“It discusses the issues of common interest and by doing this, the ministry will fulfil its mandate of engaging with the diaspora,” he added.

The first mini PBD was held in September 2007 in New York for the US, the second in Singapore in October 2008 for Asia and the third in the Netherlands in September 2009 for Europe.

(Lakshmi Krishnakumar can be contacted at lakshmi.k@ians.in)

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