History of Indian Trading in Durban


  1. Indenture
  2. Fishing
  3. Market gardens
  4. Victoria Street Indian Market


After Natal was annexed as a British Colony in 1843, the white settlers were looking for a product that could be turned into commercial profit. Edmund Morewood started experimenting with sugar cane cultivation, and soon started producing successful yields. Morewood erected a sugar mill in 1850 and began to extend his sugar cane plantations. The need for cheap and plentiful labour to cultivate the cane fields arose, and at a public meeting in October 1851 in Durban the possibility of importing labour from India was discussed. After much deliberation the first indentured labourers arrived in Natal in 1860 and started their indenture as workers in the Morewood sugar plantations.


At the end of every five-year period of indenture, many Indians would prefer to change to other forms of employment, better aligned with their natural talents and interests. Similarly many unemployed workers turned to fishing as a means of earning a living. By the 1870’s Indian fishermen were well established in the fishing industry and supplied fresh fish to Durban and Pietermaritzburg.

Market gardens

The wealthier Indians were able to lease or buy land and went into market gardening supplying fresh produce, while others opened shops and other small businesses. By the mid-1880’s the Indians had taken over most of the market garden business around Durban. On 2 August 1910 the famous Indian fresh produce market was opened at the west end of Victoria Street. In one corner there were fish and meat stall, with live poultry available daily to ensure that the supply was always fresh.

Victoria Street Indian Market

By 1905 one third of wholesale businesses and more than twenty percent of retail stores in Durban were run by Indians. Colonial authorities started removing Indian traders from the prime stands in West Street and the Victoria Street Indian Market was established. The market had almost three hundred stalls selling merchandise ranging from foods to curios. The food stalls catered for most of the traditional Indian foods such as ladoos, samoosas, dhall and rice and a variety of sweetmeats. From here, Indian traders spread to shops around Grey Street.

Leave a Comment