Forging a Gujarati Hindu Identity in South Africa - A History of Gujarati Hindu Organisations in South Africa 1900-1983
This article traces the history of collective organisation amongst Gujarati-speaking Hindus in South Africa and the roles played by these organisations in forging a collective Gujarati identity on the one hand and assimilation into apartheid South Africa on the other. Gujaratispeaking Hindus arrived in South Africa at the turn of the century. Many of these immigrants and their descendants established caste based (gnat) associations through which they sought to preserve their cultural, linguistic and religious heritage. However, these associations created sectionalism and division amongst the Gujarati Hindus and hindered the development of a united organisation. During the 1970s there was an earnest attempt to establish a single, united Gujarati organisation. Thus this article traces the history of collective organisation amongst Gujarati Hindus in South Africa in their endeavours not only to nurture their ethnic cultural identity but also to establish a cohesive united Gujarati Hindu organisation with particular reference to the South African Maha Parishad (SAGMP) and the Natal Gujarati Parishad (NGP). Given their small numbers, their strong desire to preserve their cultural identity forced many Gujaratis to rethink notions of caste identities and their sense of belonging in apartheid South Africa; hence the need to establish a single, cohesive unified and homogenous Gujarati organisation. In tracing the early history of collective organisation amongst the Gujarati Hindu community, this article argues that institutional mechanisms can play an important role not only in identity preservation and assimilation, but also, to some extent, in unifying diverse ethnic groups in the diaspora. The article will add to current debates on identity, and collective organisation amongst ethnic communities in the diaspora.