The Indian community in South Africa is today one of the most successful ethnic groups in the country. People of Indian origin have not only made their mark in South African business but are also well represented in the government, academia and sports. What has contributed to this success is a unique balancing act between economic opportunities in a new land and preservation of long-held cultural traditions. And one of the ways in which this delicate negotiation finds expression is in the dating and matchmaking practices of the community.
The history of the Indian presence in South Africa goes back to the late nineteenth century when indentured laborers were brought from India to work in the sugarcane plantations of the then British colony of Natal. Soon they were followed by traders from Gujarat and Rajasthan who were eager to make use of the vacuum in business and then by educated Indians to staff administrative posts in the colonial government in South Africa. Mahatma Gandhi, the leader of Indian Nationalist Movement is perhaps the most recognizable name who left for South Africa to work as a lawyer in 1893 and where the apartheid practiced by the colonial government motivated him to launch the freedom movement back home in India. Even though in 1961 Indians were granted the status of full citizens of South Africa, they continued to be subject to the same discriminations as rest of the native population of South Africa. It is was only in 1994 with the arrival of a democratically elected government that Indians came to be treated like any other South African and were given the same benefits as other previously disadvantage groups.
South Africa continues to be one of the most significant locations of the Indian Diaspora. Currently the Indian origin population numbers around 1.15 million and constitutes about 2.5% of the total South African population of 45.45 million according to the official website of High Commission of India to South Africa. About 80% of the Indian community lives in the province of KwaZulu-Natal, roughly 15% in the Gauteng (previously Transvaal) area and the remaining 5% in the Cape Town region. Durban, one of the biggest South African cities, has in fact the largest Indian population in Sub-Sahara Africa.
Dating among Indians in South Africa is influenced by a complex mix of deeply-ingrained traditions and more than a century of exposure to other cultural practices. By and large, Indians prefer to date within their own ethnic, religious and linguistic community. This trend is further emphasized by the stronghold of the institution of family which has played a crucial role in the expansion and success of Indian businesses in South Africa. Unlike in USA or Australia, where many young people of Indian origin are involved in independent professions and thus relatively more free to make personal choices, in South Africa the combination of entrepreneurial success and cultural rootedness is what keeps the family at the forefront of decision-making process which in turn affects choices on dating and marriage.
The earliest Indians to have migrated to South Africa mostly came from the South Indian states of Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh, the western states of Gujarat and Rajasthan as well as the eastern states of Bihar and Uttar Pradesh. All these communities do their best to hold on to their cultural traditions and to this end organize lavish celebrations of religious and social occasions. Weddings especially are a time when the whole extended family and often the local community comes together which in turn provides young people valuable opportunities to check each other out. Other family celebrations and festivals like Diwali are also popular venues for matchmaking process by the elders as well as meeting places for young Indians simply looking for a date.
Indian cultural and business associations in South Africa also do their bit to bring members of the community closer. Among the most important of such organizations are the Indian Cultural Center in Durban and Johannesburg which function under the aegis of the Consul General of India. Other than these there are several associations found on religious and linguistic lines. Hindus have associations like the Hindu Maha Sabha and Divine Hindu Association while Muslims are brought together by organizations like the Islamic Organization of South Africa. Moreover Indian linguistic communities like Tamils, Telugus and Gujaratis have their own cultural associations. The Tamilians in fact comprise of the largest Indian-origin community in South Africa, with almost 50 percent of the Indian population claiming Tamil as their mother tongue. The conferences and events organized by these Indian associations are significant venues for social and business networking among young Indians in the country.
The internet has emerged as a popular way of finding dates and life partners among Indians in South Africa. Dating and matchmaking sites not only suit the younger generation who are glad to have a measure of control over the choice of partners but also their families for whom considerations of religion, caste and community continue to be important and which many of these sites specify. Some sites are especially dedicated to finding dating partners within the Indian community while popular South African dating sites have links to Indian singles.
Dating among young Indians in South Africa is catching up fast despite cultural ties to the tradition of arranged marriage. This is largely the result of a greater measure of independence in the younger generation, brought about by higher levels of female empowerment as well as by exposure to a multi-racial and multicultural society for more than a century. Despite the young generation identifying themselves as of Tamil or Gujarati descent, most of them cannot speak their mother tongue and use English as their first language. All these factors have gone a long way in encouraging the present generation of Indians to meet people from other communities too. Even though there are regular efforts by Indian communities to preserve their cultural roots, interchange and intermarriage are the natural result of long years of living in another land and is often the best way to bring fresh blood in to the community.