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Indentured labourers on sugar plantations were frequently mistreated, and lived in unsanitary conditions.A large percentage of indentured labourers returned to India following the expiry of their terms, and some of those who returned alerted authorities in India to abuses taking place in Natal, which led to new safeguards being put in place before further recruiting of indentured labourers was allowed to take place.The Mercury newspaper favoured the importation of labour, although other Natal newspapers were against the idea.In general, the importation of labour was not viewed as politically important by colonists when it was proposed, and the importation of Indian labour was driven by lobbying by a relatively small group of sugar planters, and the long-term consequences of Indian immigration (the establishment of a permanent Indian population in Natal) were not taken into account.Natal's Indian traders rapidly displaced small white shop owners in trade with other Indians, and with black Africans, causing resentment among white businesses. Gandhi arrived in South Africa to represent an Indian businessman in a legal dispute.Researchers have made efforts to collect and make available shipping lists of Indian immigrants. Following his arrival in South Africa, Gandhi experienced racial discrimination, and, following the proposal of legislation to restrict Indian voting rights in Natal, he helped organise resistance, leading to the formation of the Natal Indian Congress.
As punishment for conspiring with the Mysorean Muslim king Hyder Ali to overthrow the king of Cochin, Kalaga Prabhu and his son Chorda Prabhu were arrested by the Dutch and exiled with their families for life to the Cape of Good Hope in 1771.Politically conscious and nationalistic Indian South Africans wanted to show both their heritage and their local roots.Increasingly they self-identified as "African", "South African" and, when necessary, "Indian South Africans".Former indentured labourers who didn't return to India quickly established themselves as an important general labour force in Natal particularly as industrial and railway workers, with others engaging in market gardening, growing most of the vegetables consumed by the white population.paid for their own fares and travelled as British Subjects.
Indian traders were sometimes referred to as "Arab traders" because of their dress, as large numbers of them were Muslim.