How Indian South Africans Fought Apartheid

Many history books have forgotten the activists who joined forces with the Black community in dismantling state-sponsored racism.

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Members of the Movement for Colonial Freedom and the Black Sash Movement march to South Africa House, 1956 (Hulton-Deutsch Collection/CORBIS/Corbis via Getty Images)

Ayesha Le Breton


February 7, 2024


12 min

Under the 1950 Group Areas Act, police forcibly relocated Neeshan Balton’s family to Lenasia, South Africa, which the government designated an Indian-only area. “It was traumatic. Essentially, [my parents] just came back from work or somewhere, and found that all their belongings were being put out onto the pavement and…onto trucks,” said Balton. “That temporary accommodation...was essentially rows of prefabricated buildings without much of the basic amenities of electricity and water.”

In 1969, South African courts convicted Zarina Desai for her relationship with white Englishman John Blacking. The country’s Immorality Act forbade extramarital relations between whites and non-whites. Instead of going through a trial whose outcome was all but certain, the couple fled to Dublin.

Both the Baltons and Desai fell prey to South Africa’s apartheid laws, which discriminated against people of color. While the story of apartheid often seems Black and white, multiple generations of Indian South Africans were a key part of anti-apartheid resistance, a coalition few history books outside the region recognize.

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