Modern day Phoenix, Durban

Phoenix, some 20km northwest of central Durban, was established as township in 1976. But is said to be one of the oldest Indian settlements in South Africa, with indentured labourers from sugar cane plantations making their homes here decades ago.  Today Phoenix is a thriving community. But, like many other South African townships very little integration has taken place.

It’s clear locals draw comfort in the sameness of day-to-day living. If you’re from Phoenix, it’s likely your neighbours have never changed, the kids from next door are a familiar sight in your back yard and there’s no harm in borrowing some sugar when you run out. You can always expect a parcel of homemade goodies for Christmas, Diwali or Eid.

There’s a tangible sense of community rarely found in the plusher suburbs. For locals, Phoenix isn’t just somewhere to live, but where many have seen their kids grow up, where they’ve gossiped with neighbours over the fence, planted trees and extended their houses into real homes.There’s still plenty of evidence of the tiny semi-detached properties handed out by the apartheid government, built so close to one another that you could see what your neighbour was cooking for dinner.

But today, many of these “houses” have grown into magnificent structures, thanks to the thrift and hard work of their owners. And it’s not just the houses that have evolved. Infrastructure is being upgraded constantly, as evidenced by the newly revamped Phoenix Plaza and other shopping centres in the Parthenon Street area. Phoenix can also lay claim to a number of schools, sports grounds, libraries, halls and public swimming pools. It’s a well-developed area by township standards.

Landmarks, Developments and Attractions
In 1999 the eThekwini Municipality received an application from the Phoenix Community Centre to take part in a private public partnership to build a multipurpose, indoor sports centre. The Council approved the venture and provided R750 000. Work began in 2001 and today the centre caters for indoor soccer, darts, pool and a host of other activities. It’s fully booked and is used by sports clubs and individuals seven days a week.

Phoenix is also home to a number of taverns and shebeens – hives of activity especially during the weekends. Other chill spots include the local shopping centres and the nearby Gateway Theatre of Shopping. The Lynx Club Mature, above Debonairs Pizza in Gem City offers amazing music and magnificent dance floors. Patrons described it as very classy and upmarket.
The giant Bridge City development is currently underway on Phoenix’s border with KwaMashu. With residential, retail, government, medical and other components, this Presidential Lead project is expected to be a catalyst for significant economic growth in the Phoenix, Inanda, Ntuzuma and KwaMashu region.

Other places of interest in and around Phoenix include the Emperumal Hindu Temple in Mt Edgecombe and the historic Phoenix Settlement, spiritual home of Mahatma Gandhi. The temple was erected in 1875 and is arguably the oldest in the country. It was originally built of wood and daub, reflecting the economic status of the recently relocated settlers.

Bala Naidoo, acting chairman of the temple’s trust and committee said that once indentured families had settled on various sugar estates, one of their first tasks was building a temple. “They would choose a sacred spot around their settlement and erect a simple shelter for the village deity. The community hoped that the village deity would help them cope with their hardships in the new land and endow them with good health and prosperity,” said Naidoo.

Besides being a place of worship, the temple was a centre of socialising, a focal point for the people to meet during the celebration of various festivals. The Phoenix Settlement is a South African Heritage site, marking the place Gandhi developed his philosophy of passive resistance that was to eventually free his homeland of India from British colonial rule.
It’s a good example of restoration-in progress, thanks in part to a generous grant from the Indian government.

The exiled Dalai Lama of Tibet made a pilgrimage here when he visited Durban recently. He said he hoped the settlement would soon regain its former spiritual prowess, and described South Africa’s non-racial democracy as a “tribute to the Mahatma and example for the world to follow”.

Written by Mack Makhatini and Samantha Moodley
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