The first Indians to set foot on South African soil were the so-called indentured labourers who were brought to South Africa from 1860 onwards to establish the hugely successful sugar cane industry in Kwa-Zulu Natal. The Gujarati-speaking community followed this initial wave from around 1880 after the discovery of gold and diamonds in the heartland of the country. The adventurous, pioneering struggling spirit of the Gujarati inhabitants of Surat, Navsari, Kathiawad and surrounding districts culminated in a small band arriving in the Pretoria region, settling mainly in Prinsloo and Esselen Street, as they did in other areas of the “Witwatersrand” and South Africa. These early immigrants, saw no need to organise as they left their families behind, intending only to amass a little wealth and return to the “motherland”. But in a decade after arrival, the lure of Africa was still strong and despite many hardships, the early settlers began seeing a future for themselves in their adopted fatherland. From very humble beginnings, these early pioneers proved to be astute businessman, resulting in the local White business population feeling threatened. Consequently, they agitated and were successful in having discriminatory measures passed against Indians, aimed primarily at restricting their ability to trade and to deny them the right of citizenship. In 1892/3, the “Coolie location”, later to be known as the “Asiatic Bazaar” was founded on the outskirts of Central Pretoria where further influx of Indians were forced to settle.
In this cauldron, in 1893, a young Gujarati lawyer from India was called to Pretoria, South Africa to help resolve a family business dispute. The humiliation that this young, inexperienced lawyer was subjected to upon arrival in South Africa set the scene for the birth of the great “Mahatma” as Mohandas Gandhi later came to be known. After settling the family dispute, having lived for a short while in the Asiatic Bazaar of Pretoria, he was prevailed upon by the local Indian population to help them fight against the discriminatory laws. Under the Mahatma’s leadership, the Indian community agitated non-violently for their right of domicile, and this was eventually granted in 1927. In the interim, wives and children arrived in greater numbers and thus a more stable community in Pretoria, as elsewhere in Gauteng, was born. With the arrival of women and children, the need for retaining language, religion and culture of the mother country became an urgent necessity thus creating the impetus for the formation of organised groupings. In 1931 Mahatma Gandhi fasted in jail in India during the Independence Struggle against the British. In sympathy, the Pretoria community held daily prayers as long as the fast lasted for the national leader. Here the idea of forming an organisation appears to have germinated. An organisation in Johannesburg was named the Transvaal Hindu Seva Samaj. This prompted the Pretoria community to establish the SHREE PRETORIA HINDU SEVA SAMAJ in 1932. Incidentally, the first meeting of the Samaj was held at the Royal Cinema in Grand Street, Asiatic Bazaar.
The founder members of the Shree Pretoria Hindu Seva Samaj that are mentioned in the records amongst others are: Nathalal G. Kala; Ramabhai Naran; Ranchhodbhai Bhoola; Chibabhai Kara; Pemabhai Lala; Nanabhai Sita; Gosaibhai H. Mistry; Parbhoobhai Nana; Jivan Patel; Jivanbhai Gordhan; Ramabhai Jeram; Bhimabhai Vala; Chhaganbhai Bhana; Bhoolabhai Naran; Pemabhai Panchia; Chaganbhai S. Jivan; Morarbhai S. Mistry; Narsaibhai M. Patel; Pranlalbhai M. Joshi; Danjeebhai Chiba; Valjeebhai Madhavjee; Govindbhai Bhana; Ramlalbhai Mooloo; Narsaibhai Pema; Jamnadasbhai Ranchhod; Jamnadasbhai R. Govind and Parbhoobhai Manga.