Today I visited my first mall in South Africa. Now, normally the shopping mall is not high on my priority list of must-see sights in a new city. However, the Gateway Theatre of Shopping is rather unique in that it is both the largest shopping mall in Africa and the largest in the southern hemisphere. Featuring 380 stores, 70 restaurants, an arcade, a variety of movie theaters (including Sundance favorites), a playhouse, a wave house, a a science center, a rock climbing wall, and even a skate park designed by Tony Hawk, it is easy to see why Gateway is the place for Durban locals to visit on a Sunday afternoon!
One detail that I found most interesting on this shopping trip was that a large percentage of the sales representatives and customers were of Indian descent. Before arriving in Durban, I had read that the city was home to the largest number of Indians outside of Asia. Nevertheless, until I visited this mall, I had not seen very many people of Indian heritage around town. While here, I took the opportunity to chat with some of the sales representatives about the Indian diaspora in South Africa. I was fascinated to learn that, because many of the young Indians in Durban are fourth or fifth generation South African, they do not really identify as much with their Indian heritage as one might expect. Many of them are not fluent in Hindi or any other regional languages in India. Furthermore, it seems that most young Indians in the area do not strictly adhere to traditional religious or cultural customs. Rather, a majority of Indians in Durban tend to live a more cosmopolitan lifestyle. Despite their more globalized sense of culture, it is clear that Indians in South Africa are still very proud of their heritage and celebrate their cultural identity in a variety of ways. For example, we noticed that a beautiful Indian bridal collection was being displayed at the mall while we were there! It was such a wonderful opportunity to see how various designers applied a unique modern twist to traditional Indian bridal couture. I am excited to learn more about the history and culture of the Indian presence in Durban!