July 2, 2010 / 12:58 PM / 9 years ago

Durban's Indians add Asian spice to World Cup

DURBAN (Reuters Life!) - Durban’s Indian community have firmly embraced the World Cup and lashings of their famed local curry and a deep passion for soccer have added a distinctly Asian spice to the tournament’s warmest venue.

Half a million strong, Durban’s Indians have contributed a clear majority of South African fans at the six matches at the city’s Moses Mabhida Stadium so far, as well as a significant presence at the hugely popular beachfront.

“The Indian community has really backed the World Cup,” said Dennis Chetty, peering from behind aromatic mounds of “Durban Masala” and “Mother-In-Law hellfire” in his spice shop in the city’s Victoria Street market.

“It hasn’t done much for the spice business, but actually I’ve been shocked that it has gone so well. I thought there’d be lots of problems with crime and so on.”

With a nine-day lull between the round of 16 match between the Dutch and Slovakia and next week’s second semi-final, many Durbanites have been talking about the World Cup in the past tense this week.

Chetty’s fellow-trader Abdullah Mohammad was, however, looking forward to another chance to change the perceptions of thousands of foreign visitors when two of Germany, Argentina, Spain and Paraguay clash on July 7 for a place in the final.

“People thought South Africa was just a jungle but tourists have now seen what it’s like and will take positive reports back home and hopefully come back,” he said as he doled out drinks, confectionary and cigarettes from his kiosk.

World Cup fans have also been able to enjoy the many Indian contributions to Durban culinary culture, not least the unique local snack — a hollowed-out loaf of bread filled with curry which rejoices in the name Bunny Chow.

The easily portable meal is thought to have been invented by the bonded workers brought from South Asia to work sugar plantations in the late 19th century, from whom most of Natal’s Indians are descended.

Mahatma Gandhi arrived in Durban as a young lawyer in 1893 and, shocked by the institutional racism he encountered, began developing the ideas of non-violent non-cooperation that would ultimately wrest India away from the British Empire.

Despite the racial hangover from the apartheid era, where Indians were second class citizens in a four class society, they have enthusiastically backed the South Africa team.

“I am very much South African because I was born and brought up here,” said Mahen Govender, a dentist whose clinic is in the market.

“I haven’t lost my Indian heritage but if you ask anyone who is Indian, they will say they are South African first.”

The huge popularity of the English Premier League among Indians in South Africa — rather than any post-apartheid hang-up — has tested the loyalty of some fans like Liverpool devotee Chetty.

“I was supporting England not Bafana Bafana because they are so far below the level,” said the third generation descendent of immigrants from Chennai. “But I was really, really disappointed with England.”

Chetty was not alone. Large numbers of younger Indians swapped their yellow Bafana Bafana shirts for the white of England when South Africa were not in action.

The huge roars that greeted Premier League favorites like Fernando Torres when they took the pitch at the Moses Mabhida were testament not only to the popularity of the English league but also the preponderance of local Indians in World Cup crowds.

“Indians are very fanatical about sport,” said Govender, whose forbears came from Kerala. “We are only two million in the population of South Africa but we take our sport very seriously, we are very passionate about it.

“Any sporting event that happens in Durban, we support it.”

Editing by Steve Addison

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