Originally built as home for miners working on the Johannesburg gold reef, the multi-ethnic suburb of Fordsburg was named after Lewis Peter Ford of the Jeppe and Ford Estate Company. Fordsburg has a fascinating and turbulent history and is today most famous for its bargain shopping, colourful jewellery and fabric stores and the many restaurants and cafes selling delicious Indian cuisine.
In 1922 the so-called Red Revolt took place in Fordsburg. The revolt was an uprising led by white miners who took an aggressive stand against the government’s decision to begin using cheap black labour in the mines. The miners took over Fordsburg and barricaded themselves in but were eventually bombed into submission by government forces.
From the 1920s onwards Fordsburg developed into a close-knit multicultural community comprised particularly of Indians, Coloureds, and Chinese people who worked and lived together in harmony. This raised the ire of the apartheid government, particularly as the suburb was considered to be too well placed in the centre of the city, and in the early 1950s Fordsburg was declared a ‘whites only’ suburb under the Group Areas Act.
After the implementation of the Group Areas Act (1950), Fordsburg’s Indian residents were forcibly relocated to the new township Lenasia south of the city. Although powerless against bulldozers and armed military personnel, they managed to effectively mobilise. Prominent anti-apartheid personalities associated with Fordsburg include Dr Yusuf Dadoo, Dr GM Naicker, Dr Zainab Asvat and Amina Cachalia. By the mid-1970s protests by Fordsburg shopkeepers against the forced removals had became so pronounced that eventually the apartheid authorities agreed to allow Indian traders from Fordsburg and nearby Pageview to own businesses within Fordsburg, provided that they were within a new purpose-built shopping centre called Oriental Plaza.
The Oriental Plaza opened in the 1970s and what began as a sad tale of apartheid restrictions has since flourished into one of the most popular shopping precincts in downtown Johannesburg. Here you will find more than 350 stores, each of them individually owned, offering everything from fabrics and clothing to home decor and kitchenware, as well as restaurants, cafes and Indian fast food stalls. An eclectic shopping experience is guaranteed and shopkeepers are a multi-cultural mix of Indians, Pakistanis, Arabs, Somalis, Malays and Chinese.
A short walk from Oriental Plaza is the Fordsburg Square flea market where you’ll find dozens of stalls selling clothing, DVDs, jewellery and spices. Also nearby is the Bag Factory artist studios, home to some of the city’s top contemporary artists.
Fordsburg is a predominantly Muslim area so most restaurants do not serve alcohol and during Friday lunch time prayers many shops are closed.