In twenty-first century South Africa, the Indian and Chinese populations are both classified as
minority groups. However, in British colonial South Africa of the nineteenth and early
twentieth century, these two communities comprised key components in the burgeoning
agricultural and mining sectors, respectively. This article particularly revisits this period to
compare the two systems introduced to import and indenture 1,52,184 Indians into the
Colony of Natal between 1860 and 1911 and 63,695 Chinese into the Transvaal Colony
between 1904 and 1910. While these two labour schemes did not serve a similar sector and
were not directly coterminous, it will be shown that a comparison of their differing features
shows how the one predicated the other. Moreover, it will be argued that the disparity
between the two schemes partly contributes to an explanation of the different places these
two diasporic “Asian” communities ultimately occupied in later South African history.
This article is partway based on two papers presented at the GOPIO conference held in 2010 and the ODI
conference held in 2013 and is a reworked version of parts of an article published in the Journal of Social
Sciences, vol. 11, 2010.