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"The Coolies Here": Exploring the Construction of an Indian "Race" in South Africa

Kathryn Pillay


The aim of this article is to reveal how a category of people that did not exist before in South Africa was created when the first group of indentured Indians arrived on the shores of Natal. In so doing, it examines how significant social and political role players contributed to the shaping of an Indian identity and in turn the perceptions of Indians in South Africa. Through data obtained primarily from The Mercury from the period 1860–1910, this article exposes the role of the state and the media in shaping the identity of the initial Indian immigrants and thereafter their descendants. The forms of “othering” of these initial immigrants and their descendants within this period, as well as how notions of foreignness pervaded the discourse around “Indians,” are also presented and discussed.

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Published by the University of Florida Press on behalf of the Association of Global South Studies.