The Indian Opinion was a newspaper founded in Durban in 1903 by Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi. The paper was printed by the International Printing Press (I.P.P.), based at 113 Grey Street (now Yusuf Dadoo Street), which itself was founded in 1898 by Viyavarik Madanjit, a school teacher who moved to South Africa from Mumbai. Like the I.P.P., which published material in Indian languages, the Indian Opinion published in Tamil, Gujarati, and Hindi, as well as English.

The front page from Indian Opinion’s final issue

The newspaper initially presented itself as favourable towards to the British colonial rule but, in 1906, just three years after its founding, it began to publish information about how the police and government could conduct searches and raids etc., informing the public about the government’s oppressive policies. It also aimed to inform white readers about the oppressions and challenges facing the Indian community in South Africa and abroad. It was, in fact, within the pages of the Indian Opinion that the philosophy of Satyagraha was first developed by readers and editors alike, and it was this philosophy of peaceful resistance that Gandhi popularised in his own protests.

The circulation of Indian Opinion, and its subscriber base, was fairly small, and at its peak had 3500 subscribers. This low number of subscribers does not necessarily reflect on the overall readership and reach of the newspaper. Certainly, under colonial rule the violent and oppressive system of indentured labour made survival for Indian people extremely difficult, and wages for labour was too low to afford even the most basic necessities let alone a newspaper subscription. This is likely one of the reasons that lead not only to the decline in the newspaper, which closed in 1961, but perhaps to the decline of Indian languages in South Africa in general. Between the early 1900s and today, the number of speakers of languages like Gujarati, Hindi, Telugu, Tamil, etc, has greatly diminished, though lately has seen an uptick in interest.

In 2018, P Pratap Kumar, Emeritus Professor of Hindu Studies and Indian Philosophy at the University of Kwa-Zulu Natal wrote an article in The Post titled ‘What hope for Indian languages in South Africa?’. In his article he describes that Indian languages in South Africa generally fall outside mainline government support, and that only the Pan South African Language Board (PanSALB) is answerable for supporting them. Despite the lack of support PanSALB provides, Kumar argues, there has been increasing interest in younger South Africans generally in learning Indian languages due to the popularity of Indian music and film, and the increasing contact between South Africans and communities abroad that speak Indian languages.

It is worth looking back on the political and philosophical influence of a multilingual project like the Indian Opinion, and wondering what such a project would look like today, given proper government support. As languages in South Africa have never truly been monolithic, trapped in silos, the potential for publications that present how Indian languages are spoken today in South Africa is immense and exciting, and would give representation to a language community that has been overlooked for decades.

A poster for the performance of Imizwilili in January 2020

Indeed, in the realm of the arts, a groundbreaking project was published called Imizwilili, a collection of 20 Hindi film songs translated into isiZulu by Dr. Gugulethu Mazibuko, senior lecturer at the UKZN School of Arts. The songs were performed in both Hindi and isiZulu on January 31st 2020 (International Hindi Day) at the Kendra Hall in Durban. The Imizwilili project was commissioned by the Indian Consulate in Durban (where it is available for free), the Hindi Shiksha Sangh, and the Swami Vivekananda Cultural Centre, as a joint project. Imizwilili shows that Indian languages in South Africa are not a thing of the past and that through music, publishing, and speaking, they can be given more representation.

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