It’s not a tour I get to do very often but I think it’s probably one of the most interesting Durban cultural day tours I do; the Mahatma Gandhi and Indian Heritage day tour. I’ve always been fascinated by the history of Durban and more so with the history of the Indian people that have survived (almost against all odds) the various racial attacks, both physical and emotional by both the white and black inhabitants of Durban; and this is true even today.

The Truro Ship from Madras

On 16 November of 1860, over 300 Indian people descended the gangplank and stepped onto the shores of Durban to begin working on the sugar cane farms and later the coal mines of Natal. This plan to bring in indentured Indian laborers was voiced in the 1850’s as a reaction to the difficulties farmers had in finding and keeping farm laborers.

Indian indentured workers in Durban

Indian indentured workers in Durban

Interestingly, those Indians arriving in 1860 were not the first Indians in South Africa; Jan Van Riebeck had brought Indian slaves with him when he arrived in the Cape. The Truro Indians were not even the first in Durban, with four Indians having arrived in the 1849 already.

Throughout the 1860’s right up until recent ties, the Indians have experienced great hardships in South Africa. It started right from the minute the men, woman and children landed in Durban where they would be allocated a number before being placed on farms around Durban. Accusations were leveled constantly at white farmers who mistreated their Indian workers (and justifiably) and Indian families would be broken up with the husband and wife being sent to the different farms and children being removed from their parents.

Mahatma Gandhi

When Mahatama Gandhi arrived in Durban to attend to some legal work, he himself witnessed and experience the blatant racism and hostility towards the Indian by the white inhabitants of Durban and elsewhere. It’s this hostility as well as the experience he personally underwent that led him to return to South Africa in order to improve the lives of his fellow Indians.

The Mahatma Gandhi house in Phoenix, KwaMashu, Durban

The Mahatma Gandhi house in Phoenix, KwaMashu, Durban

Gandhi used his legal skills to bolster support to counter the various acts that the Natal government was introducing, aimed at curbing the rights of Indian people and dis-enfranchising them. Gandhi was during his life time in South Africa, moderately successful in the fight against the racism directed toward the Indian people; his true legacy however, was in uniting an often fractured Indian population to fight for a common goal.

Durban and the Indian

We started our tour with a visit to the Grey Street area. This to me is the heart of the Indian people of Durban. It’s in this area where the first Indian stores were started, where the traders hawked their goods, and where the residents of Durban did their shopping.

Today it’s still bustling although fairly run down (I firmly believe this just adds to the character of the area). We explored the classical Indian architecture of Durban, including one of the oldest buildings in Durban, the Aboobaker building as well as the largest Mosque in the Southern Hemisphere.

Moses Mabhida Stadium

We next visited the Moses Mabhida Stadium and from the top of the stadium I pointed out the Durban Country Club. It’s here that one of the great golfers of yesterday started off as a caddy; Papwa Sewgolum. It’s a tragic story in that Papwa could have been one of the greats but because of the Apartheid laws he was never to achieve the success that was due to him.

The Post Office Building in the City of Durban, South Africa

The Post Office Building in the City of Durban, South Africa

The Phoenix Settlement

After the stadium we stopped for a quick cup of coffee before heading onto KwaMashu and the Phoenix Settlement. It was here that Mahatma Gandhi established his printing press and also experimented in commune living.

Ela Gandhi

It was pretty amazing that when we arrived at the Phoenix settlement we discovered Ela Gandhi, the grand-daughter of the Mahtama Gandhi was visiting. Ela is a trustee at the site and was gracious enough to allow us to take some photo’s together, this experience just made my clients day!

Ohlanga Institute

Finally we went on to the Ohlanga Institute where John Langalibalela Dube established his school. It was also here that Nelson Mandela chose to cast the first free and fair election vote in South Africa’s history. It’s an amazing place to visit and even my clients remarked it was an emotional stop.

John Dube's house near Phoenix in KwaMashu

John Dube’s house near Phoenix in KwaMashu

Booking a Tour

We offer this tour as a private tour and booking it is easy. Contact us using one of the options below and let us know on what day you would like to visit and how many in your group and we’ll do the rest.

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Categories: Durban