365 days in Inanda, KwaZulu-Natal

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Mohandas Gandhi made Inanda home for a while. (Photo: Mahatma Gandhi, studio, 1931 | Elliott & Fry | Wikimedia, public domain)

Lessons in walking are important, he says, and he defines the difference between an authoritative strut and the confused, tourist-like walk. If you don’t walk like you mean it, like you belong here, it’s a whole different place.

Inanda is a township located about 20 kilometres from Durban, KwaZulu-Natal. Its name means the pleasant place in Zulu – and this might be because the pleasant, mountainous views stand out as one of its most memorable traits.

Crime statistics in 2023 call it one of South Africa’s murder hot spots (The Citizen, Crime Stats 2023), and the United States announces a 13% drop in homicide rates during the same time (Business Insider, 2023). Unsurprisingly, it’s not Texas – but you find the same appreciation for music and meat on a fire.

Inanda is the place where I spend just over 365 days. Eventually, I leave with a hint of post-traumatic stress from having been there – yet also sadness from leaving the view behind.

A brief history of Inanda

The Inanda township is historic and is part of the larger Inanda Heritage Route. This was the birthplace of John Langalibalele Dube, a founding member of the original African National Congress. The same soil was Gandhi’s home for a period, and his Phoenix Settlement still remains standing.

John L Dube (Photo: kznheritage.org, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons)

A local school was the place where President Nelson Mandela cast his vote in 1994. Several international actors, musicians and artists call this their birthplace and home. As people walk the streets, you can’t help but wonder whose greatness will make them world-famous.


The arrival is unceremonious and happens close to midnight, and I have to rouse the neighbour for keys to the house. Inanda’s streets become a confusing, snaking journey in the dark. Everything is unpacked quickly, with the damage to be assessed later. It takes until the next morning for me to realise that I’ve moved anywhere.

The South African Police Service reported in 2022 that a lack of street lighting keeps them from doing their jobs. Thankfully, this seems to be a work in progress for the government – though some areas are better lit than others.

Inanda (Photo: Alex Coyne)

I walk into a mugging in the first week, heading in the direction of Mtshebeni. Welcome to Inanda. A police vehicle stops on the highway, offering a lift, for which I am grateful. Witnesses saw nothing, a harsh lesson in how things work for a peaceful life here. We each light a cigarette, the only thing that didn’t get grabbed in the fray. He asks if I’m lost. White guys don’t come through here often, and when they do, it’s usually for something nefarious. He’s surprised and amused when I say that I’m staying for a while, and he extends his hand in the first true welcome.

Life in Inanda

“Walk like you mean it,” says *Sithole, demonstrating various ways of putting one foot in front of the other. “Like this.” Lessons in walking are important, he says, and he defines the difference between an authoritative strut and the confused, tourist-like walk. If you don’t walk like you mean it, like you belong here, it’s a whole different place.

Life is interesting here. Most people are friendly, just making their way from one place to the next. Heavy washing is hung over bushes and trees, which is more effective than a washing line in coastal winds. Water outages characterise life on the coast, with eventual “water shedding” that decides the hours of the day when water is accessible.

Several spaza shops sell the basics, from washing powder to bread. Anything else, like canned fruit or computer parts, are best purchased at any of the stores in town.

Lessons from Inanda

June 2023 comes with a spectacular storm. I learn to use a lengthy walking stick, bracing against the weather – or testing the ground for scurrying wildlife, of which there is a lot. Cats and dogs make their occasional appearance, usually breaking out of the house like naughty teenagers to look for company or snacks. Nature continues uninterrupted, and it’s one of the few places where I get to see fireflies.

Every day, a drove of bulls is driven past the house. My housemate and I watch from the window, feeling the vibrational impact of these massively impressive creatures through the ground.

Music plays an important role in Inanda. Choirs practise every week, hip hop blares from car stereos everywhere, and lovers who miss their partners play classic Marvin Gaye songs every second weekend or so. Music is a way of life and a distraction from the daily pace. If you wonder about the time necessary to learn Eminem’s early albums, the answer is about 365 days.

More lessons from Inanda

Inanda teaches you many things, whether you are paying attention to them while they’re happening or not.

I learn broken bits of Zulu, picked up on taxi journeys and walks; there’s no judgment for getting it wrong. I learn that chickens are (almost) more accurate than alarm clocks. However, the chickens here seem to be up before the break of dawn – awake before the light. It’s a small adaptation, which means that I’m up before sunrise writing.

I learn the nuances of addiction from local beggars, who, I later learn, sleep somewhere around the corner – the house without windows. I learn to leave food and cigarettes outside, small offerings for the ones you barely see moving through Inanda’s streets. One says he has been addicted to crack cocaine since his teens – but he’s convinced that his next steps are toward sobriety. Hopefully he’s right.

Another visitor tells me he has a child somewhere, and he’s going to visit them in hospital. By the time he returns to Inanda, news is worse. The child has passed away. Sometimes, life is harsh. He goes on, and I can’t tell how.

The next day, I watch a small child’s first-time delight at the sight of a cat.

Leaving things behind

October brings the gathering of the Shembe, a Christian religious group embarking on a three-day pilgrimage to the top of Mountain Nhlangakazi. The sect is named for Isaiah Shembe, whose vision started the movement back in 1913. According to SA History, approximately 100 000 people make their way to the mountain, starting from the church. Unaware of the tradition, I choose this three-day period for a shopping trip. It’s tough to blend in with the crowd when everyone else is dressed like they’re going to the Woodstock Festival. Shopping makes me stand out like a sore thumb, and I’m one of few people on the day who aren’t buying for a three-day pilgrimage.

Isaiah Shembe (c.1870 – 2 May 1935), the founder (Photo: Wikimedia, public domain)

The just-over-365-day time is up before I get to see the beginnings of the next pilgrimage, scheduled for a year later.

See also:

Dawning places rising across Africa

Suid-Soedan: ’n storie van sensuur, sekuriteit en onstabiliteit

Newtown: Voel die hartklop van Afrika

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