A number of notable restaurants arose in the Grey Street area. These included Simon’s Cafe, Goodwill Lounge, owned and run by Pompie Naidoo who brought overseas and local jazz musicians to perform there. Patel’s Vegetarian Restaurant, Kapitan’s Balcony Hotel and G.C. Kapitans were also well known restaurants. Later on came Victory Lounge. It was here in the Grey Street area that the famous "bunny chow" originated. The "bunny chow" was an invention born of the City’s racist regulations. African people were not allowed to served in Indian restaurants but had to resort to take-aways. As a result the practice arose of serving curry in a section of bread with the centre scooped out. Over time this became known as the "bunny chow" and became a popular take-away.

Kapitan's Balcony Hotel

Kapitan’s Balcony Hotel was opened by Ranchod Kesur Kapitan in around 1924/25 on the corner of Grey Street and Victoria Street. Ranchod’s father, Kesur Jivan Kapitan had arrived in Durban from India in 1887 to set up business here. Kapitan’s Balcony Hotel started out as a vegetarian restaurant to cater for Indian immigrants. The restaurant occupied the ground floor as well as the first floor of the building at 189 Grey Street. Ranchod Kesur Kapitan went on to open a branch of the restaurant in Johannesburg. Kapitan Balcony Hotel became a landmark in the Grey Street area and was extremely popular as a gathering place. Kapitan Balcony Hotel was also well-known for its sweetmeats which were in demand even in India. The story goes that the sugar produced in South Africa gave the sweetmeats in this country a unique taste, hence the demand in India. Kapitan Balcony Hotel attracted many famous patrons such as John Schlesinger, Ken Gumpu, and Curtis Cokes. The Johannesburg branch was one of Nelson Mandela’s favourite restaurants before his incarceration in jail. Kapitan Balcony Hotel closed in 1977. Ratilal Ranchod, who had become sole owner in 1952, then joined the Divine Life Society to do community and religious work.

G.C. Kapitan Vegetarian Restaurant

Ganda Chagan Kapitan opened G.C. Kapitan Vegetarian Restaurant at 154 Grey Street in 1912. At this time the restaurant was based in a room in a wood and iron building. Like Kapitan Balcony Hotel, G.C. Kapitan Vegetarian Restaurant was well known for its vegetarian meals and sweetmeats. It was frequented by working class people as well as prominent figures. G.C. Kapitan Vegetarian Restaurant counted amongst those who had savoured its speciality, the "beans bunny", Indira Gandhi, Yusuf Dadoo and Monty Naicker, Ahmed Deedat and footballer, Bruce Grobelaar. G.C. Kapitan’s was noted as a place where one could get a good meal at a reasonable price. G.C. Kapitan Vegetarian Restaurant closed in 1992 when the owners of the building cancelled the lease, as they wanted to renovate the premises and use them for other purposes. The restaurant had operated for 80 years.


From 1876, Indian market gardeners sold their fruit and vegetables in the Gardener Street area, behind the present Post Office. From around 1900, the market moved to the Juma Masjid or Grey Street Mosque where fruit and vegetable hawkers sold their produce. The Durban Town Council in the 1890s attempted to close down this market but was unsuccessful. Consequently, on 1 August 1910 the Durban Corporation opened the Indian market at the western end of Victoria Street. The site for the establishment of the market had been a stable where the Durban municipality kept its mules used for drawing garbage carts. Latrines were erected at a cost of 200 pounds. The first Indian Market Superintendent, W. MacDonald was paid a salary of 25 pounds a month while his assistant, Suchitt Maharaj was paid 8 pounds a month. At the same time, the municipality allowed market gardeners to sell their fruit and vegetables in Victoria Street from Monday to Saturday between 4am and 10am. Farmers lined both sides of the streets with their carts and animals. Those who did not own carts brought their produce in baskets, boxes and sacks. Vegetables and fruit were sold from baskets or were placed in little piles upon a sack or sheet of cloth spread on the ground. The sellers squatted cross-legged on the street, hence the name “squatters market”. A number of women sold cooked meat, beans and mealies (corn). The farmers would often arrive with their produce from 10pm on the previous night in order to trade at 4am the next morning. For the whites, these traders were a public nuisance. As a result, the City Council moved the Squatters Market to the Warwick Avenue area in 1934.

By the 1960s, the Victoria Street Market was a bustling place selling a variety of merchandise ranging from foodstuff to curios. There were nearly two hundred food stalls which included groceries such as rice, tinned and packaged foods, spices as well as cooked food and sweetmeats. The Indian market was for many years one of Durban’s main tourist attractions. Saturday was the busiest day with the number of visitors at times reaching up to 60 000. Nevertheless, it came under increasing pressure from the municipality, which under the pretext of health and safety measures was continually able to control the Indian market.

The Indian Market came under increasing pressure from the municipality over the years. In April 1957 the Chief Officer of the Fire Department reported that the Indian Market with its overstocking, bad storage and congestion was one of the worst fire hazards in the city. He suggested that, as an emergency measure, no cooking and fires be allowed inside the market and that the electrical wiring system be investigated. He also proposed a reduction in the number of stallholders and stock and the removal of all unnecessary combustible material. In addition, the City Engineer’s Department proposed the demolition of the Indian Market in order to build a freeway.

The Medical Officer of Health supported these recommendations, warning that conditions in the Indian Market were ideal for food poisoning. At around the same time the City Engineer’s Department proposed the building of a freeway to reduce Durban’s traffic congestion, which would result in the demolition of the Indian Market.

In March 1973, a fire destroyed the Indian market. Two-thirds of the stalls between Cemetery Lane and Queen Street were completely destroyed. Only the meat, poultry and fish sections were not damaged. All the curio and provision stalls with millions of rands worth of trinkets, curios, and rare antiques were destroyed. The destruction of the market resulted in high unemployment. A temporary market was built on the site of the old Victoria Street Indian Market in November 1973. In 1978, this market was demolished to allow for the freeway to be constructed. In its place, the present-day Indian Market was built in 1984.

Many of the indentured Indian labourers working on sugar estates to the south and north of Durban leased or bought plots of land on the periphery of the town on completion of their indentures. They took to growing fruit and vegetables on these smallholdings. Market gardening became a popular source of income because it was relatively easy to lease land, did not require much capital to start and it yielded returns fairly quickly. From 1876 Indian market gardeners sold their fruit and vegetables in the Gardener Street area, behind the present Post Office. From around 1900 the market moved to the Juma Masjid or Grey Street Mosque, where the trustees had set apart the open ground within the mosque compound for the benefit of fruit and vegetable hawkers. The Durban Town Council in the 1890s attempted to close down this market but after being approached by the trustees of the mosque it was arranged that the market would continue to operate on a nominal payment to the Corporation of ten pounds per year.

In November 1965 a special Indian Market sub-committee which had investigated health conditions at the market came to the conclusion that 43 of the 270 stalls that sold foodstuffs were a definite health hazard and recommended that they be closed by 31 March 1966. However, in February 1966 the municipality decided that it would only close nine of the stalls and renew the licences of the others provided the stallholders agreed to abide by the by-laws controlling kiosks. On 20 February 1968 the City Council passed a recommendation of the Finance Committee that tenancies of trading at the Indian Market would not be transferred to deceased estates or to the heirs of deceased stallholders. The heirs were allowed seven days to wind up business and dispose of stocks. The City Council also regularly increased the rent for the stalls, forcing some stallholders to close down.

A committee set up by the council recommended in February 1971 that the market be moved to Chatsworth. The Durban Indian Market Stallholders Association submitted a memorandum to the City Council expressing strong opposition to this recommendation. The Council then decided that the Indian Market would be rebuilt on the adjacent land on which the African Market and the Durban Home for Men were situated. The Durban City Council argued that it was not the responsibility of ratepayers to subsidise commercial undertakings and that private enterprise should take responsibility for the building of the market. However, since the Grey Street area was a "controlled area" in terms of the Group Areas Act (i.e. it has not been proclaimed as a group area for any racial group and so ownership and development of property was regulated by the Group Areas Act) a permit had to be obtained from the Minister of Planning before any development could take place in the area. The Minister of Planning rejected the Council’s plan to allow a consortium of Indian stallholders to rebuild the market in Victoria Street. The South African Indian Council argued that the task of building a new market was too big for the stallholders and that the City Council should take responsibility for building and financing the new market.

After prolonged deliberation between the Stallholders Association and the City Council an agreement was reached that the notice of eviction would not be served on the stallholders before 31 March 1973. However, on the evening of Friday March 16, 1973, a fire destroyed the Indian market. As the market burned, fireworks exploded in all directions and green flames from melting copper flared upwards. Two-thirds of the stalls between Cemetery lane and Queen Street were completely destroyed. Only the meat, poultry and fish sections were not damaged. All the curio and provision stalls were destroyed with millions of rands worth of trinkets, curios and rare antiques as stalls had been packed to capacity in anticipation of Saturday’s trading. Many birds and small animals were burnt to death. The destruction of the market resulted in hundreds of people facing unemployment and also affected their dependents which were estimated to be around 9 000. The Durban Indian Benevolent Society formed a relief committee to assist families affected and a Mayor’s Relief Fund was also started.

After much wrangling a new temporary market was built on the site of the old Victoria Street Indian Market. The new Indian Market was officially opened on Saturday 30 November 1973. It was built at a cost of R 109 527 and accommodated 66 stallholders, mainly curio dealers. 52 fresh produce dealers were excluded from the new market. In 1978 the new Indian Market was demolished to allow for the construction of the freeway. Traders who had occupied the temporary site were moved into the former Bulk Sales Hall in Warwick Avenue.

The present-day Indian Market was built in 1984, designed by architects J.D. Maresh in association with Cassim Kadwa. The market has an Eastern theme incorporating domed towers and turrets in the roofline. The market also provided space for informal street traders through hawker carts and barrows.

The Squatters Market (Squatter / Morning Market)

Market gardeners were allowed to sell their fruit and vegetables in the open street in Victoria Street from Monday to Saturday between 4h00 and 10h00. The section of Victoria Street bounded by Grey Street and the railway line near Brook Street was closed to traffic during this time. Farmers lined both sides of the streets with their carts and animals. Those who did not own carts brought their produce in baskets, boxes and sacks. Vegetables and fruit were sold from baskets or were placed in little piles upon a sack or sheet of cloth spread on the ground. The sellers squatted cross-legged on the street, hence the name "Squatters Market". A number of women sold cooked meat, beans and mealies. The farmers would often arrive with their produce from ten o’clock on the night before so as to be ready for business at four o’clock the next morning. At the end of the morning’s trading the municipality’s team of horse drawn water carts would clear the road of vegetable leaves to allow vehicular traffic to resume.

Many whites complained about the activities of the street and market traders. They were seen as a public nuisance and were accused of causing congestion in the roads and on the sidewalks.

The City Council proposed moving the Squatters Market to the Warwick Avenue area. The move to Warwick Avenue took place in 1934 where 618 stalls were provided for the traders.


During the early days of silent movies the two cinemas operating in the Grey Street area were the Victoria Picture Palace and the Royal Picture Palace, both situated in Victoria Street and run by an English Company, the African Theatre Company. "Rawat’s Bio" as it was fondly called, was probably the first Indian-owned cinema in the Grey Street area. In 1940 Kajee and Moosa opened the Avalon Cinema which also served as a venue for community meetings.

Naaz Cinema

The Naaz Cinema was opened by Ramnikal Goshalia in 1953 when the Victoria Picture Palace’s lease expired. Ramnikal Goshalia had the building renovated and paid a monthly rental of seventy-five pounds per month. The Naaz Cinema seated 800 people and specialised in Indian films. The Indian films were very popular. Amongst the patrons of the Naaz cinema were the residents of the Durban Corporation’s Magazine Barracks and the Railway Barracks. Ramnikal would run a Tamil film for four shows a day and the film would run for up to four or five weeks continuously, Monday to Saturday. These shows were always well attended as people enjoyed the music and dancing and to see how people in India lived. Through the movies people would learn more music, new songs and then they would go to Goshalia’s music shop to buy gramophone records which sent Ramnikal’s record sales up.

The film would usually be put on a plane bound for London on a Thursday evening. It would arrive in London on the Friday morning and would then be sent over by plane on the Friday evening, arriving in South Africa on the Saturday morning. One copy would be sent directly to Cape Town to the censorship board while the other would be sent to Durban. The censorship board would have a special sitting on the Saturday afternoon. By half-past-four the censorship board would phone Ramnikal to let him know that the film had been passed. At five-o”²-clock Ramnikal would have his first show at the Naaz in Durban. He would have five cars ready. At half-past-five the show would start in Merebank and at six-o”²-clock in Chatsworth. The film would be shown reel by reel. As soon as the first reel was through it would be rushed to the next cinema. The cinemas would also show forthcoming attractions which gave another fifteen minutes to play with. So the film would be taken reel by reel from Naaz to Merebank, from Merebank to Chatsworth, from Chatsworth to Verulam, and so on. In this way it would go to seven cinemas around Durban and the coast. Pompie Naidoo of Goodwill Lounge which used to close at two-o”²-clock in the morning was a meeting place for young men. They would go to the cinema and then meet there after the cinema. Pompie organised dances at City Hall, Red Cross Centre, St. John’s Hall and other places, for public entertainment as there were no facilities for Indians.

Shah Jehan

The Shah Jehan Cinema, named after the emperor responsible for the building of the Taj Mahal in India, was established by the Rajab Brothers in 1956. Situated at 275-279 Grey Street, the Shah Jehan was the largest cinema in the Grey Street area at that time, seating more than 800 people in the main circle with three private boxes in addition. The Shah Jehan featured mainly films in the English language. The opening movie was "Seven brides for Seven Brothers" and tickets were sold out for weeks on end.


Twenty years after the Rajab Brothers had established the Shah Jehan they embarked on the launch of a new movie theatre, the Isfahan. The Isfahan, named after a Persian city famous for its carpets, opened on 4 November 1976. The opening movie was "Siddhartha". The Isfahan seated a maximum of 700 people.


The Rajab brothers opened their second cinema on 26 April 1968, the Shiraz which was housed in the new Rajab Centre in Victoria Street. In addition to the Shiraz Cinema, which occupied the first two floors, the centre also housed the following enterprises owned by the Rajab Brothers: Summit Furnishers, Salim Distributors (clothing wholesaler), and Rajab Bros. (Pty.) Ltd., (property and finance). Like the Shah Jehan, the Shiraz is named after a city in Persia. The opening film was "The Professionals".

The Ooka brothers took over the Shiraz Cinema around 1980. The building that housed the Shiraz was bought by the Islamic Propogation Centre and the Ooka Borthers were forced to close the cinema down. Fortunately, the Ooka brothers managed to buy the Liberty Cinema, which they converted into a three screen complex. Millions were invested in converting the old Liberty Cinema into an ultra modern complex.

The schools

In the Grey Street area there was a proliferation of places of worship which reflected the diversity of the population. What is particularly interesting is that the state did not intervene in the establishment of such places. Rather, differentiation along religious grounds was encouraged because it reinforced apartheid ideology. As Leo Kuper aptly points out, “apartheid, in theory, rests on difference, not on inferiority”. Hence, different religions were a testimony to the argument that all peoples were not the same.

The lack of schools was a major problem for residents of the Grey Street area. Apart from a few schools set up by missionaries, such as Saint Aidan’s Mission School, there were few schools for Indian children in Durban. In 1877, only a few Indian children were allowed to attend white schools. However, the government discontinued this practice in 1899. Consequently, with a few exceptions, it was left to the communities themselves to establish schools for their children. The schools were in general associated with a particular church, mosque or temple.

Apart from a few schools set up by missionaries, such as Saint Aidan’s Mission School, there were few schools for Indian children in Durban. In 1877 a few westernised Indian children were allowed to attend white schools. However, the government discontinued their admission into white schools in 1899. The Higher Grade Indian School was established by the government in 1899 and was the first school for Indian pupils that went beyond standard 4. The Higher Grade Indian School provided instruction up to standard 7.

The Churches

Hari Krishna devotees, Grey Street. This picture is from the Imperial Ghetto series by Omar Badsha ©

The attempt to reproduce the design, aura and ambiance of the churches as they existed in Europe was an important way in which white settlers sought to recreate a bit of “home” for themselves. More importantly, through their missionary activities they sought to instill European values amongst the non-white population. This was an a crucial part of the civilising mission. As the Grey Street area grew in population, missionaries with different agendas were attracted to the area. In 1862, Father Ralph Stott set up a Methodist Mission amongst the Indian people and by 1876 he had raised sufficient income to build a chapel in Queen Street. In 1914, as a result of a gift from his daughter, an additional chapel was built in Lorne Street. The sole purpose of this mission was to convert Indians.

Methodist Mission

Father Ralph Stott arrived in Durban on 6 January 1862 to set up a Methodist Mission amongst the Indian people. By 1876 he had raised sufficient income to build a chapel in Queen Street, which seated 150 persons. In 1914, as a result of a gift from Lady Greenacre, who was Father Ralph Stott’s daughter, the Lorne Street Chapel was built.

Saint Aidans Anglican Mission

Dr Lancelot Parker Booth, a surgeon trained in Scotland, joined the Natal Indian Immigration Department as a District Surgeon and medical officer for the Alexandra County on the lower South Coast. He returned to England in 1884 to complete theological studies and was ordained to the priesthood in 1885. He was appointed as Minister and later Diocesan Superintendent of Indian Missions in Natal.

Dr Booth lived at number 49 Cross Street in a large, iron-roofed bungalow which had outbuildings and was surrounded by a rusty corrugated iron wall. The house was at the intersection with Leopold Street, near the old bridge that connected Alice Street with Cross Street. He was appalled at the poverty, illiteracy, low standard of living and lack of medical facilities suffered by the Indian working class in Durban. In order to attend to the medical needs of the Indian communities Dr Booth ran a clinic from his home and had also set up several make-shift wards, as there was no hospital in Durban catering for the Indian communities. In 1887 Saint Aidan’s church was built across the road from Dr Booth’s house. The church remained in use until 1966. Saint Aidan’s Mission Hospital, established with the help of funds raised by the Natal Indian Congress and a donation from Parsee Rustomjee, was formally opened on 14 September 1897.

Emmanuel Cathedral

The Emmanuel Cathedral was the inspiration of Bishop Charles Constance Jolivet, the second Vicariate Apostolic of Natal, who was appointed in 1874. Bishop Jolivet commissioned Street-Wilson and Paton to design the Emmanuel Cathedral in 1903. The architects were probably influenced in their design of the cathedral by the Saint Joseph’s Church at the upper end of West Street. St Joseph’s had been designed by an English firm of architects, Goldie, Child and Goldie and was built in 1878. Materials from Saint Joseph’s Church were used in the construction of the Emmanuel Cathedral. The stained glass windows were ordered from France for the cathedral. The "stations of the cross" (a depiction of Christ’s crucifixion) are carved out of marble from Carerra in Italy. They were a gift to the Cathedral from the Empress Eugenie as a memorial to her son the Prince Imperial who was killed in the Zulu War of 1879. They are a replica of the stations found in Sacre Coure de Montmarte in Paris. The High Altar was a donation from World War I veterans and is a copy of the altar in Liverpool Cathedral which was destroyed during World War II.

The Emmanuel Cathedral is an example of the late Gothic Revival style. A combination of red face-brick and rough-cast plaster were used for the exterior, protected by a Marseilles tiled roof with wide overhanging eaves. The interior has cool marble (Carrara) columns and flooring with a floating web of Gothic vaults above and a special underfloor ventilation system. The altar is in marble.

Bethesda Temple

Bethesda Temple was founded by Pastor J.F. Rowlands, a pastor of the Full Gospel Church of God in Southern Africa, in 1931. The name Bethesda means "house of kindness" and was inspired by a vision experienced by Pastor Rowlands which prompted him to start work in Durban amongst the Indian communities. Pastor Rowlands held his first Gospel meeting for the formation of Bethesda at the Magazine Barracks in Durban on 11 October 1931. At first pastor Rowlands operated from a converted shop at 270 Grey Street. Later on the Bethesda Temple was built in Lorne Street and opened on Sunday 6 September 1936. From Bethesda Temple missionary work was carried out amongst Indian communities in various other parts of Durban.

Juma Masjid

In August 1881 Aboobaker Amod Jhaveri together with Hajee Mahomed Hajee Dada purchased a site in Grey Street from K Moonsamy for 115 pounds for the construction of a mosque. A tiny brick and mortar structure which stood on the site was converted into the mosque. In 1884 the two founders had the brick and mortar structure rebuilt, enlarging it. The Juma Masjid was the first mosque to be built in Natal. On February 15, 1884 Aboobaker’s estate purchased land adjacent to the mosque to enable its expansion. In 1889 Hajee Mahomed Dada, in his capacity as the only trustee of the Grey Street Mosque purchased more adjoining land because of a sharp increase in the number of worshippers. The first of the two minarets on the Grey Street Mosque was constructed in 1904. At the same time, two shops were built adjacent to the mosque to provide an income for its maintenance. A second minaret was added to the mosque structure in 1905 and several rooms, toilets and shower facilities were also added at the rear of the of the mosque for use by travellers to the city. Rooms were also built for the mu”²adhdhin. (All these dwellings had to be removed when the Juma Masjid Girls School was built adjacent to the mosque). These minarets were at the at time two of the highest structures in the city of Durban.

The mosque was rebuilt in 1927 according to the design of architects Payne and Payne. The building is a unique blend of Islamic decorations and strong Union period vernacular style.

Further extensions were made to the Grey Street Mosque in 1943.

The mosque building is a large plastered structure representing a mixture of styles. A bridge extends from the neighbouring girls”² school to the roof of the mosque. The flat roof, which is used for prayer during festivals is used as a play-ground during school days as the school has no play grounds.

The style of the Grey Street Mosque is essentially geometrical. The windows and inter-leading doors and the arched doorways all stress the geometrical design.

The Grey Street Mosque is reputed to be the oldest mosque in the southern hemisphere and until the late 1970s also enjoyed the status of being the largest mosque in the southern hemisphere.

Hindu Temples

The Grey Street area housed a large Hindu population which was by no means homogenous. The diversity within the Hindu community can be seen in the various institutions which were established in the area. The Surat Hindu Association was founded in 1907 by the Gujarati-speaking section of the Hindu community. They built a “Dharamashala”(boarding place) in Victoria Street which served a useful purpose as there were no hotels available to Indian people at that time who were travelling from India to the Transvaal or the Cape as well as also returning to India via Durban. During its early days the Surat Hindu Association held receptions for many community leaders such as M.K. Gandhi, Srinivas Sastri, Sarojini Naidu. As the association’s activities and needs increased, it set up a Gujarati School in Prince Edward Street in 1933. The Surat Hindu Educational Society was set up for the purpose of managing the school. An important part of the curriculum was the teaching of Gujarati language for which teachers from India were recruited.

The Association also brought religious leaders from India to serve the religious needs of the Gujarati-speaking Hindu community. In 1930, the Shri Surat Arya (Sangeet) Bhajan Mandal was founded and was active in the field of music and drama. A Prathana Mandal (prayer group) was formed to conduct Sunday prayer meetings and satsangs. A Gujarati Library was established and a Youth League was formed to promote and encourage sports, physical culture and debates. A cricket club under the banner of Bharat Cricket Club was also formed. A Gujarati Mahila Mandal (Women’s Association) was also established. As a result of a shortage of accommodation in the state’s English-medium schools for Indians the Association started a private English-medium school in 1949.

Another sect of the Hindu community congregated around the Arya Yuvukh Sabha which was formed in 1912. The Sabha’s membership comprised Hindi, Telegu and Tamil speaking Hindus. The Sabha organised classes for the teaching of the Hindu scriptures, the Vedas, and for the teaching of vernacular languages. The Arya Pratinidhi Sabha was formed in 1925 and brought together the various Arya Samaj’s in Natal. It served as the umbrella body of the Arya Samajs.

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