October 1908 to 17 September 1985

On 16th November 1860 the first Indian indentured labourers, arrived in the colony of Natal, on board the S.S. Truro. Desperate to find labour to work the sugarcane fields of their colonies, and with the knowledge that the Indians were the worlds first and most successful sugar producers, the office of the “Protector of Indian Immigrants”, ran various advertising campaigns, enticing Indians to board boats in Madras and Calcutta, with promises of a better life in Natal.

This is where our story begins.
It is the story of a noble and proud Indian man who owing to a chain of events embarked on a journey that has led us to this auspicious occasion today.

Seragadam Rapetti Appanna, also known as Sadhool, was born in the village of Ramurthiepeta, Vizagapatham, India, in 1872.

He worked at Waltair railway station and as a priest at the Chimadri Appanna Konda Temple in his hometown, where he lived with his wife Atchamma and four children, Appiamma, age unknown, Ramulamma, aged nine, Appalnaidu, aged six, and Chinna, aged one year eight months.

Seragadam’s eldest daughter Appiamma was to be engaged to a person living some 15km from Ramurthiepeta in the village of Vaddadhi.
Seragadam Appanna borrowed a cart and two oxen from a local merchant to transport his family to the engagement. On arrival at the village he entrusted the oxen and cart to two individuals who had travelled with him while he went about some business.
Upon his return to the cart he found one ox missing and the people whom he had assisted with transport disappeared with his goods. On reporting the matter to the police, an investigation revealed that the ox was at a butcher and had been slaughtered. On pursuing the perpetrators of the crime he was assaulted and chased away.

At the same time recruitment was taking place for work in South Africa. Seragadam discussed their predicament with his wife and they decided to make enquiries at the Ramurthiepeta depot. He was on a month’s leave and decided to use the time to explore the possibilities NATAL had to offer.

He was told of the abundance of gold in South Africa and life in India was getting difficult to raise a family because of the high taxes Queen Elizabeth imposed on Indians. Many farmers were allowed to keep only a small portion of their crops and the rest had to be handed over to the British. Only later did he realise that the gold referred to by the recruiters was the half sovereign or 10 shillings per year the workers were paid and the ship voyage alone would consume his entire leave period.

At the depot their names were recorded and a few days later they boarded a train for Madras some 800 kilometres away. On their arrival at Madras, Seragadam accompanied by his wife, Atchamma and three children boarded a ship called the Umfuli to Natal.

Seragadam’s eldest daughter Appiamma, remained in India with the promise that they will return after realising their fortunes in NATAL. She later emigrated to Malaysia and there is no known contact with her or her family.

On board the ship to Natal, the men and women were separated for the six week journey and the staple diet was vegetables, rice and large hard biscuits. There were no beds on the ship, so people slept on the floor. Seragadam was given a job as a policeman onboard the ship, which was carrying approximately 200 people, predominantly from Anakapali and Kakinda. Life onboard was difficult but people were content and eager to reach Natal.

The Umfuli reached the lighthouse, on the Bluff, just outside Durban, on 29th July 1910 at approximately 3am.
Seragadam’s eldest son Rapetti Appalnaidu’s recollection of his first experience of Durban, as  he disembarked from the boat was the whales they saw at the whaling station on the Bluff. The local natives were roasting the whale meat nearby and Rapetti Appalnaidu approached them and got his first taste of whale meat.

The surrounding topography with the hills at the Bluff and the channel into Durban harbour looked similar to that of Vizagpathnam which gave the family some comfort in this new land.

The family was housed in the holding depot at the harbour and had medical examinations done at the depot hospital, a process which took approximately three days, and resembled the inspections done on African slaves 50 years earlier. The family were then transported by lorry to the Ottawa Sugar Estate at Acutt Place near Verelum
The farm was named after Ottawa, in Canada, the birth place of the wife of the estate owner, Anthony Wilkinson.

The plantation had a large distillery which produced some of the finest Rum in the colony and was 200 to 500 hectares in extent with approximately 140 Indians and 80 Africans, working the fields and the distillery. The living quarters were situated at the base of a hill with the plantation mansion strategically situated at the top of the hill from where Wilkinson would view the entire estate unobstructed.

The family were housed in grass houses with one large room and some distance from the house was the lavatory, a typically designed trench with sacks around it.

A few days after their arrival, before the break of dawn the family was woken by banging on the door of their hut. They were told to report for work. The day started at 3am with rollcall, thereafter everybody got ready for work and had to be in the fields by 6am. Work in the fields continued until 6 or 7pm daily. Seragadam and Atchamma went to the fields to work.

A few days after arriving at the Ottawa sugar estate, Appalnaidu and his sister Ramulamma were taking food to their parents who were working the field and witnessed a white man known as  “Johnson” on horseback whipping the Indians in an attempt to get them to work harder. When they saw their father getting whipped the children screamed and were subsequently chased away by the sirdar, an Indian in charge of the Indian labour. Labourers were often given lashings as punishment for not working hard enough.

This type of beatings was common practice on the cane fields, and many Indians succumbed to the harsh conditions. Many chose death over the barbaric conditions.

Factors such as harsh work demands, poor living conditions, repeated punishments, rigid legislation, a quota of only 30% females allowed passage to Natal, and the raping of some of the indentured labourers wives by estate owners led to a sharp increase in suicides.

In fact, suicides by indentured Indian labourers, were 1300% higher in Natal than in India between the periods 1904 to 1908. Seragadam ran away twice from the estate in an attempt to report abuse to the “protector of Indian immigrants” office, however, on both occasions he was brought back by police for leaving the estate without a pass. The pass system was a tax imposed on Indians at a cost of 3 pounds a year, which was exorbitant because the labourers earned a mere 10 shillings or 6 pounds a year.

Even the protector of Indian immigrant’s office was of little value. If an indentured Indian did get to the office to complain and did not have the explicit permission of the estate owner to leave the estate to lodge the complaint, he was reported to the owner and the owner was entitled to have him charged criminally.

There was an increase in resistance to the harsh conditions experienced by Indians in Natal  and by 1913 Ghandi resumed the passive resistance strikes in Verulam, which gained momentum due to the pass system  and a judgement by Supreme Court Judge Searle refusing to recognise Hindu and Muslim marriages. Many Indians were jailed for participating in the resistance campaign, including Seragadam.
Fortunately for the family, Seragadam’s son Appalnaidu and his daughter Ramulamma had started working on the farm. Appalnaidu’s job was to cut the tops of sugar cane for which he earned six pence
per month and Ramulamma was given work in a white household, taking care of the children.

The family remained in Ottawa until Seragadam’s period of indenture expired in 1915, they then moved to Rossburgh for a short period, and thereafter settled in Mt. Moreland’s now known  as Umhloti, on the William Campbell Sugar Estate. The family had by then made contact with relatives formerly from Umzinto, but who had also relocated
to Mt. Moreland’s. A close relationship formed between the families which led to the marriage of Ramulamma to Moelleti Durgiah, formerly of Ummalada, Ankapalli.

The family grew with the birth of four children in Mt. Moreland, Adilutchmee, a baby girl, birth date unknown, Pideama a baby girl was born on 12th December 1917, Ramnaidoo, a baby boy, birth date unknown and Kistiah, a baby boy and the youngest of the Seragadam children, was born on 22nd May 1922.

Appalnaidu, Chinna and their brother-in-law Moelleti attended night classes from 8pm til midnight, at the house of one Mr. Parusaraman, who was employed as a doctor’s assistant in Mt. Moreland’s.

The three young men paid Mr. Parusaraman whatever they could afford for English reading and writing lessons. Appalnaidu supplemented his study costs by assisting Mr. Parusaraman with handy work while Chinna assisted with tending to Mr. Parusaraman’s farm animals. The young men achieved up to the standard two Longman’s Reader, which was pretty remarkable
in context.

Moelleti decided to return to Visakhapatnam, India and his decision was supported by Seragadam
and Atchamma. In 1916 the young couple settled in Ummalada, Ankapalli and subsequently had
five children. The family presently owns and cultivates farmland in Ummalada.

Back in Natal, the Seragadam family found employment at the Mt. Moreland sugar mill, and life for the family began to improve, compared to the conditions endured in Ottawa. Kistiah recalls “we were now settled in our environment and lived quite happily. We corresponded regularly with my sister and relatives in India”. Keen to further improve their lives and now equipped with a basic education, the family looked south to Sezela.

Seragadam’s eldest son Appalnaidu, now 23 years old, travelled by train to Sezela over a long weekend and obtained employment at the Reynolds Brothers sugar mill owned by a Scottish father and son. In Appalnaidu’s favour, the mill engineer’s assistant had resigned a day earlier and the assistant position was available. Appalnaidu was taken on and was asked by the mill manager to find additional staff for the mill.

This prompted the family to give notice at Mt. Moreland and migrate to Sezela in the year 1924, where Seragadam and his younger son Chinna also gained employment at the mill. Seragadam worked as a boiler assistant, Appalnaidu as a stores clerk and later in the maintenance department and Chinna,
as a secretary in the office.

The family was given a three room brick cottage approximately half a mile from the mill and the family prospered. They also supplemented their food basket by cultivating the land close to their home. This was the task of Seragadam’s wife, Atchamma

Kistiah, Seragadam’s youngest son, relates the family’s experiences in Sezela.  “Sezela was a beautiful place overlooking the sea. It had a lovely coastline and its shores were filled with many evergreen plants. We enjoyed the fresh air. There were many close friends living nearby and at times we got together and shared our knowledge and experiences which occurred in our daily lives”.
“In the beginning life was a bit of a struggle, but my mother was too wonderful. She was always full of smiles and she was friendly with all the people living around us. With her love and blessings we were able to progress much further”.
Soon after settling in Sezela, Appalnaidu, Seragadam’s eldest son got married to Kannammah, aged 14, from Puntan’s Hill. The wedding was a prolonged affair and lasted about six days, because of the arduous journey guests had to make to the function. Guests attending weddings generally stayed over for about three days before returning home.
Seragadam Appanna (Sadhool) continued to tend to his family in Sezela until he was laid to rest on the 1st of February 1938 on a plot overlooking the sea.

Rapetti Atchamma continued living in Sezela with her children and in 1958 travelled to India to visit the family on board the SS Karanja. Atchamma was laid to rest on the 8th of January 1961. The family further stretched their wings, as life lead them down their individual paths. Appalnaidu went on to purchase a property in Clairwood in 1932 and built a house there for his family. He found employment with Huletts for a short while for 2 pounds 50 per month plus rations. Kannammah passed away from a short illness on the 19 December 1951 .Appalnaidu worked in various companies over his lifetime until his retirement and lived with his eldest son Adiah in Mobeni until he passed away on the 7th of May 1989.

Rapetti Appalnaidoo first involved himself in public affairs in Sezela, where he was the treasurer of the temple society. When he moved to Clairwood, he joined the Pathmajuranni Andhra Sabha, as a founding member, the oldest branch in South Africa. He fathered eight girls and 5 boys. RA Naidoo as he was fondly known said “anyone wanting to attain old age must work hard, not eat rich food and devote their time to the Almighty”.

Chinna, Seragadam’s second son married, Mahalutchmee, about two years later. Chinna who started his employment career as a secretary at the mill progressed to the position of Sirdar and was a foreman in the sugar room where sugar was bagged, at the time of his retirement in 1970.

Chinna Naidoo, together with other members of the Sezela community, was responsible for initiating and funding education, developing and maintaining a temple and helped with the formation of sporting clubs and other social bodies.

Chinna was a soft spoken and humble man. He believed in helping people and he was a problem solver. He enjoyed his retirement for another 15yrs until his death in India on 17 September 1985.

Pideama, the only remaining daughter in South Africa, married Adari Kankiah Naidoo in 1933 and relocated to Rossburgh Junction. Unfortunately, Adari passed away at an early age, survived by his wife and six young children, the youngest aged two.

As a single parent for the major part of her life, she was able to successfully support six children and build three homes in Merebank, Umhlatuzana and Mobeni Heights. She was the founding member of the Pathmajuranni Mahila Manula Sabha and was an active member of the Pathmajuranni Andhra Sabha.  She was also a member of the Mobeni Heights Andhra Sabha and a member of the Mobeni Heights Senior Citizens' Club. Pideama was laid to rest in 1999 and is survived by 6 children, 16 grand children and 18 great grand children.

Seragadam’s youngest son and only surviving 2nd generation member of the Seragadam clan, Kistiah, now 88 years old resides in Australia with his daughters.

He was just 16 years old when his dad passed away and Kistiah was forced to seek employment. He was working at Reynolds Brothers Sugar Mill when he married Kashamma Naidoo and moved to Sigamoney Road in Clairwood with his eldest brother Appalnaidu.
He always had a thirst for knowledge and educated himself on a part time basis. He studied the art of magic and performed several shows from 1944 to 1951. He joined the Department of Health and he eventually retired as an Administrative Officer.  Kistiah also travelled extensively to Europe and India, where he reconnected with family. In memory of his late parents Kistiah had a stamp produced in Australia depicting his parents. Kistiah’s wife Kassamma was laid to rest on the 9th of May 2005.He has five children and four grand children.

We salute our parents and the parents of our parents and their parents in turn; they toiled hard and strove rightly against tremendous odds to achieve what they did.
Our better station in life today is a tribute to their endeavours.


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