One of our popular tours (and one I love doing) is our township tour to KwaMashu township north of Durban. When I traveled around the world all those years ago I was always fascinated by the people living in different countries, how they went about their daily lives, their struggles and successes as well as how they integrated their traditions and cultures into fast paced modern lives. And I realised that many visitors to South Africa wanted to know the same of South Africans.

Township Tours from Durban

KwaMashu today is a sprawling and lively former township that is home to around 200,000 people. Just 12 km north of Durban, the township has become a symbol for arts and performance in South Africa and is home to many familiar TV and radio personalities who rose from humble beginnings. Football stars like Siyana Xulu, TV stars like Henry Cele and even our former State President Jacob Zuma have all spent their formative years in KwaMashu – and they are not the only ones, the long list of stars is impressive.

Mahatma Gandhi House at Phoenix Settlement on the Durban Township Heritage Day Tour

Mahatma Gandhi House at Phoenix Settlement on the Durban Township Heritage Day Tour

For years though, the township of KwaMashu was considered a no-go zone. It was a battle ground for warring political parties trying to establish dominance in the township areas around South Africa. The crime rate was at one point considered to be one of the highest in the world, and even the police wouldn’t enter the township without considerable backup.

But all of that has changed and today KwaMashu is arguably one of the most progressive and contemporary townships in South Africa.

From Humble Beginnings

KwaMashu was originally a sugar cane farm owned by Marshal Campbell. When the city of Durban hurried to comply with the Group Areas Act of 1950, the land on which KwaMashu is situated was already being negotiated for by the city thanks to a fast population growth and the movement of people from rural areas into the cities like Durban.

Ohlanga School where Nelson Mandela cast the first free and fair election vote

Ohlanga School where Nelson Mandela cast the first free and fair election vote

There was a great deal of pressure on local government by the white residents of Durban to clear the large slums around Durban, like those at Cato Manor where Black and Indian people were living –  the reason given that these people represented a perceived threat to the security of the white people of Durban.

The Move from Cato Manor to KwaMashu

After the land had been purchased and a plan submitted by the city council to the national government, the construction of cheap housing began in phases. At the same time the ciyy embarked on a program of extolling the benefits of the new township and in particular home ownership to the Black population of Durban.

The city council also called on business to assist in the mass movement of Black South Africans from Cato Manor to the newly established township of KwaMashu. By around March of 1958 the move had been completed and by the 1960’s some 40,000 Black families now lived in the newly named “KwaMashu” township.

The Township of KwaMashu taken in 1975

The-township-of-KwaMashu near Durban in 1959 | Maasdorp-and-Humphreys1975

The move was not smooth. The old site of Cato Manor was closer to the city making it easy for Black and Indian people to get to their places of employment, schools, stores and amenities were close by. On top of the families had no put down roots and established themselves in the small but thriving Cato manor community, and now they were being uprooted and forced into a township that was further away, with no established modes of transport, no school, clinics or even the most basic of stores.

It’s little wonder then that many Black chose to abandon their lives in Durban and moved either back to traditional lands or even to other parts of the country. Families were split, violence broke out and a terrible hardship now became a daily part of life.

John Langalibalele Dube and Mahatma Gandhi

No history of KwaMashu would be complete without the mention of two of South Africa’s most important figures, that of John Dube and Mahatma Gandhi.

John Langalibalele Dube was born 1871 and went on to become one of the most important founding members of the SANNC which later became the ANC. He promoted the education of Back South Africans and sought to improve the lives of Black woman in South Africa. Today visitors can explore his home in KwaMashu as well as visit the resting site of the visionary thinker at the Ohlanga Institute.

Nelson Mandela Memorial at Ohlanga Institute on a Durban Township Tour

Nelson Mandela Memorial at Ohlanga Institute on a Durban Township Tour

Mahatma Gandhi came out to Durban in 1893 to assist in a family members legal affairs and experienced first hand the racism that the Indian s of South Africa endured at the hands of the Whites. He fought for and won the right for Indians to travel in first class coaches and participated in petitioning the government to halt their plans to remove the right of Indians to vote. Gandhi established the “Phoenix Settlement” in KwaMashu (long before it became known as KwaMashu) and went on to fight for the rights of Indian people. Today visitors can still visit his home.

The Ohlanga Institute

The Ohlanga Institute that John Dube created is doubly important, especially as I’m writing this blog post on the day of our 5th national elections in South Africa. It was at this site that Nelson Mandela cast the very first free and fair vote in April of 1994.

It’s interesting that Mandela chose to cast his vote in KwaMashu instead of Cape Town or Pretoria or even in his home town in the Eastern Cape.

Today South Africans of all colors are casting their hard earned vote, I will be joining one of the queues later today.

KwaMashu of Today

KwaMashu has found it’s own unique voice in South Africa. Certainly in Durban the township has become known for it’s arts and performances, for it’s vibrant night life and busy taverns. KwaMashu is also unique for it’s pioneering approach to dealing with housing in the townships, culminating in the establishment of “New Bridge City”.

Enjoying a Township Tour of KwaMashu from Durban

For many people visiting South Africa, traveling into a township is a a daunting prospect  but without visiting one of South Africa’s townships it’s almost impossible to understand where South Africa came from, where it is currently and where the country is moving to.

On our township tour we’ll collect you from your accommodation and escort you into the township of KwaMashu. You’ll have an opportunity to learn why this township is so incredibly important in modern South Africa and you’ll get to see for yourself the vibrant and modern township.

You’ll also get to visit the home of Mahatma Gandhi and learn more about this families contribution to South Africa and you’ll also get to visit the Ohlanga Institute and home of John Langalibalele Dube, founder of the ANC.

As a treat, you’ll also get to enjoy a “bunny chow” lunch and learn more about the history of Durban.

Book a Township Tour from Durban

For more information about our township tour, simply visit the tour page, or if it’s easier, use one of the convenient methods below to get in touch with us.

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Country and Coastal Touring

Country and Coastal Touring are tour operators and guides based in the city of Durban, South Africa. We offer a range of day tours, overnight tours and multi-day tours to safari parks, cultural and historical sites and adventure tours. We are registered and insured and all guides are qualified as per South African law.