Fordsburg, Johannesburg

Fordsburg is known as Johannesburg's 'Little India', its streets awash in bold colours, the heady smells of incense and spices, and the attraction of bargains wherever you look.

Today it has a pulse of its own. Halaal restaurants line the roads, the Oriental Plaza (created by the apartheid government as a shopping centre for Indian-owned shops) is a major attraction, and the area on Market Square, redeveloped in 2009, adds a further element to draw the crowds.

Fordsburg lies close to other precincts in the inner city that have undergone a recent fashionable revival (Newtown, Braamfontein and Maboneng precincts in particular).

Fordsburg, however, continues to flirt with inner-city decay, a far cry from Maboneng, but nonetheless influenced by and frequented by those who want to reclaim the city's inner city from the decline into which it slumped. Fordsburg is one of the most historic areas of Johannesburg. It has been around since the late 1800s, one of the earliest areas laid out by private developers.

This area north-west of the city was designated 'native location' and meant for 'non-white' people. There were three racial areas: Indians lived just north of Fordsburg (this was then demolished in 1904 to make way for Newtown), Cape Malays from Cape Town settled north-west of Fordsburg in Pageview (forcibly removed in the 1970s to Lenasia) and Fietas, and poor whites, who worked on the city's gold mines just south of Fordsburg, settled in Brickfields (later demolished) or Burghersdorp.

As a consequence, Fordsburg was one of few multicultural and multiracial suburbs. It was bound to find itself involved in the strife of apartheid.

Much of the suburb was destroyed during various upheavals - the Rand Rebellion (Battle of Fordsburg Square) of 1922 (during which the market building was so badly damaged it had to be demolished), the Defiance Campaign of 1952, and the forced removal of Indians from Pageview in the 1970s.

At the same time as forcing Indians out of their homes, the government destroyed the buildings along 14th Street used by many of as a trading area, forcing them into the Oriental Plaza.

Post apartheid there has been a flow of, predominantly Muslim, Middle Eastern, Asian and African residents to the suburb. With them has come their food and customs. As a result, venturing further into the neighbourhood than the Oriental Plaza has become a popular Saturday night pastime.

Best time: the Saturday weekly night market (Mint Street, Fordsburg) – food, costume jewellery, clothing, and spices.

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Destination Fordsburg
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