KwaZulu-Natal has a large population with 43 per cent being younger than 15 years. Some 8, 7 million people live on its 92 180 square km of land, making it the second highest densely populated province in South Africa. The principal language is isiZulu, followed by English and Afrikaans.
Remnants of British colonialism, and Zulu, Indian and Afrikaans traditions make for an interesting cultural mix in the province. Numerous temples and mosques bear testimony to the large Indian component of the province. Victorian buildings and houses grace the towns, cities and farms, while the Zulu in the northern rural areas still live in their traditional huts.
KwaZulu-Natal has a relatively poorly skilled labour force with a lower literacy rate than the National average, which thus causes a shortage of professional human resources.
There is a huge gap between the urban and rural per capita income of the people in the province. Less than half of the potential labour force is currently employed in the formal sector and this has lead to a high level of migration to Gauteng.
Pioneers observed that a species of wild sugar cane, called mpha by the Zulu, grew in the area. Africans and Europeans chewed this cane as it was juicy and sweet but the sugar content was not high enough to make it commercially viable.
In 1847 a Durban firm, the Milner Brothers, who traded with Mauritius, imported some 40 000 tops of the inferior variety of sugar cane known as Mauritius red cane. Settlers from various parts planted the tops on their lands.
In 1848 Ephraim Rathbone, travelling up the north coast to become overseer of an experimental cotton estate managed by Edmund Morewood, obtained a few samples of the cane and induced Morewood to plant them on the cotton estate. That was the beginning of the sugar industry.
To many the problem of plantation labour seemed to be the greatest stumbling block in the establishment of sugar. There was a clamor that some measure should be taken to import cheap and plentiful labour. One petition after another was sent to the Government, praying for aid in the labour problem. The question of overseas recruitment was investigated and on
16 November 1860 the first load of 341 Indian labourers, mainly Hindus, arrived. Nineteen other immigrant ships followed, bringing 6 000 Indian labourers.
They did not remain as labourers but as early as 1856; Baboo Naidoo opened the first Indian store in Field Street, Durban, selling Asiatic condiments and delicacies.