The site the market is built on is one that comprised of the’ blood sweat and tears of those indentured labourers and our forefathers that have fought for the right to construct a place of trade that accommodates a multi-racial “melting pot of culture” destination that is rich in culture and heritage.
The history of the fight and struggle to keep the market a multi-racial and unrestricted place of trade stems from the arrival of Indian people as labourers to South Africa in 1860, where approximately 152,641 people came to the Natal Colony as indentured labourers working on the sugar cane fields. Upon expiration of their 5-year contracts, a few renewed their indenture and some returned to India but almost 60% decided to make their permanent residency in South Africa.
This trend was also followed by families of entrepreneurs, known as passenger Indians who independently funded and established themselves locally as traders. In around 1884 some 20,877 free Indians had made their homes in Natal. These Indian people employed market gardening and fishing as a means of making a living and by 1885 around 2000 were labouring on lands in and around Natal. Some had also established thriving businesses by being the cheapest suppliers of fresh produce whilst others led a hand to mouth existence with trading in Natal was a crucial factor to their economic survival.
Open Air Market
Around this time an open air street market was developed by the Durban City Council in Victoria Street, extending from Grey Street to Brooke Street and the corner of Cemetery Lane. This market was the trading hub for around 2000 sellers the majority of whom were market gardeners that lined both ends of the street in carts selling mainly staple vegetables in baskets and barrows. These traders would arrive each evening around 8pm and spend the night sleeping under their carts before trading began at 4am the following day.
According to the trading restrictions from the Council, trading ceased at 09:00 on weekdays and 10:30 on Saturdays. 30 minutes later a municipal water cart moved down the street to wash it down. This market came to be known as the ”Squatters Market“ as many traders squatted cross-legged in the street alongside their goods. Grey street developed into an established Indian business district but the white people saw the traders as a public nuisance as the streets were covered in rotting vegetables and leaves.
A schism developed between the Hindu and Muslim farmers which resulted in the Hindu group organising a Market Committee to meet with the council to request a separate market for their exclusive use. This resulted in the city council moving the squatters market to Warwick Avenue as the Council considered the market a lucrative industry to the economy of Natal. The Warwick early morning market was therefore established on the 1St February 1934, while the original Victoria Street Market, better known as the Indian Market, or the Stallholders’ Market, became an outlet for more diversified goods.
The Indian Market was intended to provide for the needs of the Indian community but over the years it was attended by other racial groups as the Market had competitive advantages over their competitors including the Borough Market (Whites only) and the white traders of the CBD in terms of products, prices, place and promotion. The Indian Market had a great marketing mix strategy and was customer centric as people were allowed to bargain which led to loyal customer return and return on investment.
Indian Market Fire
On the evening of Friday March 16th 1973, a fire that started at 8:45pm destroyed the Indian market. As the market burned, fireworks exploded in all directions and green flames from melting copper flared upwards. By 9:45pm the roof of the building collapsed. Two-thirds of the stalls between Cemetery Lane and Queen Street were completely destroyed. The destruction of the market resulted in hundreds of people facing unemployment, stallholders and workers could not afford to buy basic essentials and pay for rent, transport, furniture and many other expenses. After the remaining stock of fish and meat was sold in the undamaged area, the market was officially closed. Due to the stallholders losing almost everything in the fire, the Mayor of Durban Mr Ron Williams launched a relief fund on 20th March 1973.
Victoria Street Market Re-Opening
The site on which the present day Victoria Street Market was rebuilt, was that of the original Indian Market that was built by the Durban Town Council in 1910 and eventually guttered by fire in 1973. When officially reopened in July 1990 one of the of the main stipulations made by the City Council was that the Market be aesthetically pleasing due to its high visibility by passing traffic on Durban’s Western freeway. Another main stipulation from the City Council was that the market should have tourist appeal, all of which were satisfied prior to the market being reopened by Dr Anton Rupert, chairman of the Small Business Development Corporation (SBDC).
Blood, Sweat and Tears
The site the market is built on is one that comprised of the’ blood sweat and tears of those indentured labourers and our forefathers that have fought for the right to construct a place of trade that accommodates a multi-racial “melting pot of culture” destination that is rich in culture and heritage. The Victoria Street Market was based on the fight against the apartheid government against all odds that owed to the building Durban’s economy and trade. Many of the traders and stalls in the Victoria Street Market today were part of the original market that burned down in 1973.
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Strength does not come from physical capacity. It comes from an indomitable will.- Mahatma Gandhi
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