Sections of the Indian community here is doing what it can do to keep
alive Hindi in a country where most Indians count English as their first
South Africans of Indian origin number about 1.15
million or 2.5 percent of the country's population of about 50 million.
The largest group of Indians counts Tamil as its mother tongue followed
But most Indians here, particularly the younger generation, have English as their working language. Despite the appeal of Bollywood movies and CDs, it is English they are at home with.
This is where the Hindi Shiksha Sangh (HSS) comes in. HSS was founded by Hindi lover Pandit Nardev Vedalankar in 1948, just a year after India attained independence.
Vedalankar hailed from Gujarat. He graduated from Gurukula Kangri Vishwavidyalaya in Hardwar, and trained as a teacher from the Vardha-based Rashtrabhasha Prachar Samiti.
His sole motive behind coming to South Africa was to promote Gujarati. However, his love for Hindi and his efforts to promote the language earned him the sobriquet 'Father of Hindi in South Africa'.
"Nardevji was the greatest advocate of Hindi in this country," says Rambhajan Sitaram, a former Hindi professor in the University of KwaZulu-Natal, the province home to most Indians.
"I learned Hindi under his guidance. Now, at least two dozen organisations are dedicated to teaching and promoting Hindi under the banner of Shiksha Sangh in South Africa," he added.
The bulk of Indian migration to South Africa took place between 1860 and 1911 when people poured in as indentured labour to work in sugar and other plantations.
Said HSS president Malati Ramali: "We are striving to make Hindi a popular language as it is the symbol of our cultural identity. Our efforts are paying dividends."
There are about 50 schools in South Africa affilaited to HSS.
Many Hindi magazines, newspapers and a news channel, Hindivani, cater to the Indian Hindi-speaking community in South Africa.
Most of the Indians who still prefer Hindi are from the older generation, people who trace their origins to present-day Bihar and Uttar Pradesh.
HSS played a leading role in hosting the three-day ninth World Hindi Conference that ended Monday in Johannesburg. The conference was attended by some 700 scholars and delegates from around the world including India, Suriname, Mauritius, Guyana, North America and Britain.