South African Indian culture
Did you know?
South Africa has the largest Indian population in the world outside of India.
South African Indian culture took root in 1860 when the first immigrants arrived on board the Truro as indentured labourers to work on sugar cane farms in present day KwaZulu-Natal. In 2010, more than 1,2 million people of Indian descent in South Africa celebrated the 150th birthday of their community's existence in this country.
Indian culture in South Africa faced struggles in the face of discrimination until 1994. It is these struggles that have seen Indians take a leading role in the Freedom Struggle. It all started with the arrival of Mohandas Gandhi in 1893.
Gandhi was born in India and arrived in the British colony of Natal to take up a position as an advisor to a Durban law firm. He had only intended to spend a year in South Africa, but the racial slights he experienced were so formative that he stayed on for two decades.
In 1894 he founded the Natal Indian Congress, later at the forefront of the Freedom Struggle in South Africa. At first it utilised passive resistance, but when this proved inadequate he reformulated it into satyagraha, Sanskrit for ‘truth and firmness'.
But the influence of the Indian community is not limited to Ghandi, with many members of this population group being represented in our government and ruling party in positions of influence and importance.
In addition, cultural ideas and influences are strongly felt here. India is home to 15 official languages and over 1500 dialects. Traditions have been handed down from generation to generation and preserved in the largest Indian diaspora outside of India itself.
Predominantly Indian suburbs in and around Durban include Chatsworth, Phoenix, Verulam and Tongaat.
The national dress of India, the saree (six yards of unstitched cloth draped to impart grace and elegance) may be seen on many South African streets, especially in KwaZulu-Natal. Indian cuisine is hugely popular, with south Indian and north Indian restaurants popular all over the country, along with delicacies such as samoosas, chilli bites and bunny chow (hollowed out half loaf filled with curry).
And the fever for cricket that grips India is as much in evidence in KwaZulu-Natal, where the first Indians were introduced.
Travel tips & Planning info
Who to contact
Tel: +27 83 644 1907
Department of Arts and Culture KZN
Tel: +27 (0)33 342 6300
Fax: +27 (0)33 342 3613
Tours to do
Grey Street, Indian market, Chatsworth, Phoenix, Literary Tours.
What to eat
Curry, samoosas, bunny chow.
Silk materials and saris, punjabis and other traditional Indian garb.