Durban is best known for its golden shores and laidback beach vibe. Durban also lays claim to a unique cultural standing – it is home to the world’s largest Indian population outside of India, and it is also the one-time home of one of India’s most widely recognised figures – Mahatma Gandhi.
Indians first came to Durban in 1860 when the British imported thousands to work as indentured laborers in the sugar cane fields. The descendants of these laborers now make up Durban’s Indian community which comprises 40 percent of the city’s population. Born on October 2, 1869, Gandhi spent his formative years as a young attorney in Durban from 1893 to 1914. It was here that he developed his philosophy of ‘Satyagraha,’ a form of active yet peaceful resistance to political injustices, inspired by his opposition to the discrimination that was rampant in South Africa at that time.
Gandhi’s history and Durban’s Indian population has shaped the city into the melting pot it is today, and visitors should make sure to experience Durban’s vibrant Indian culture through the following activities in 2019:
Shop for spices and curios at Victoria Street Market
151/155 Bertha Mkhize Street, Durban
The current Victoria Street Market was built at the beginning of the 1980s, replacing the famous Indian Market which dated back to 1910 but was destroyed by fire in 1973. Barrels of Indian spices, curry powders, and incense infuse the air of this extensive bazaar where men in their traditional kurtas and women in their saris sell their wares including spices, curry powders, silk scarves, and more, to locals and international visitors. A food market with fresh seafood, fresh meat, fruit, and vegetables can be found on the ground floor. The market is open 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday – Saturday and 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Sunday and public holidays.
Visit Phoenix Settlement, the one-time home of Mahatma Gandhi
120518 Street, Inanda
The original Phoenix Settlement, located just outside of Durban, was established in 1904 to encapsulate Ghandi’s vision for a community based on self-reliance. Throughout its history, the settlement has been an iconic representation of South Africa’s fight for justice, peace, and equal rights for all citizens. Today, the Phoenix Settlement is comprised of a replica of Gandhi’s house, the building that housed the printing press for his Indian Opinion newspaper which serves as a museum, his son Manilal’s house, and the Phoenix Interpretation Center where lectures are given. A visit to Phoenix Settlement is often part of the Inanda Heritage Route tour which takes in some of Durban’s most important historical sites including the Ohlange Institute, the home and gravesite of Dr. John L. Dube, the first-ever president of the AfricanNational Congress; Inanda Seminary, the first secondary school for African girls; and Ebuhleni where the elaborate rituals of the Shembe Church can be explored. Visits can be organized by calling the Inanda Tourism office at +27 (0)31 519 2555 or contacting a qualified tour operator or travel agent.
Chow down on Bunny Chow
Durban’s culinary scene is a delightful fusion of Indian and Zulu flavors and techniques. The city’s top culinary delight is its signature dish, Bunny Chow, Indian curry housed in a hollowed-out loaf of white bread that serves as a portable bread bowl. Not to worry, no rabbits were harmed in the making of this dish. The name “bunny” originates from an Indian term referring to merchants. Bunny Chow can be purchased at food stands and casual Indian restaurants throughout Durban.
Celebrate Diwali in Durban
Those visiting Durban in the late fall 2019 can take in the sights, sounds, and smells of Durban’s Indian culture during Diwali, the Indian festival of light. Markets, craft fairs, fireworks, and more take over the city in various locations including Moses Mabhida Stadium.