oa Alternation - The economic role of the Indian commercial class in colonial Natal

Volume 7, Issue 2
  • ISSN : 1023-1757



The arrival of the 'Passenger Indians' in Natal from the I 870s marked a new era in the economic history of the colony. The immigrants paid their own passage and were free in all respects - hence the name 'free' or 'passenger' Indians. Unlike indentured Indians, they did not fall under the contractual labour system, and differed from the indentured workers in terms of place of origin, dialect and religion. This group originated from the west coast of India, from the province of Gujarat and were in the main Gujerati speaking Hindus and Muslims. In Natal, probably because the passenger Indians were mostly Muslims. and because of the flowing robes they wore which were reminiscent of Middle Eastern dress, the group as a whole came to be referred to as 'Arabs'. Endowed with business acumen and little capital, they came to explore and exploit the economic opportunities created by the needs of the ex-indentured Indians labouring on the plantations and mines in Natal. They set up retail stores in Durban, Pietermaritzburg and in the isolated and remote districts of northern Natal and gradually monopolised both the retail trade and trade among Africans throughout Natal.

Loading full text...

Full text loading...


Article metrics loading...


This is a required field
Please enter a valid email address
Approval was a Success
Invalid data
An Error Occurred
Approval was partially successful, following selected items could not be processed due to error