KZN History: The hotel that’s also a museum

2017-02-12 06:01 - Paddy Harper
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2016/11/15 Chatsworth. The 1860 Museum on the 156th anniversary of Indian arrival in South Africa PHOTO: Siyanda Mayeza

City Press  caught up with Dhilosen Pillay, who believes that history is a living thing – so much so that he’s turned the hotel his family has owned since 1983 in Durban’s Chatsworth township into a museum dedicated to telling the history of South Africa’s Indian community since their arrival in 1860.

Hotel Savera, which was built in 1974 in an era when the only way to get a liquor licence in the township was to run a hotel, started its new life in November last year – this time as a monument to the 152 000 Indians who travelled to South Africa as indentured labourers and free workers on 71 ships between 1860 and 1911.

The hotel, the sole survivor of a generation of such establishments, has a series of themed rooms telling the history of Indians from precolonial times through to their arrival in South Africa and their cultural, sporting, commercial and social life here.

Pillay, the chairperson of Savera, has overseen an upgrade of the rooms to three-star status. Each tells the story of a town where Indians settled in South Africa, from Tongaat and Malabar to Stanger and Lenasia.

Pillay bought the Savera from his father in 2004.

“I have a keen interest in history. In particular, the history of Indians in South Africa. I had thought of writing a book, but people don’t read. I was sitting in the hotel, which has its own history and which focuses on traditional South African Indian food, which came about because our forefathers didn’t have coconut water and had to substitute tomatoes. I decided to use the hotel as a museum, where people could come and eat and sit down and read at the same time,” says Pillay.

The Savera’s bar has also been turned into a monument to Indian sporting legends.

In the future, Pillay plans to stage historical plays to help teach children about their history.

But its not all history: the hotel also boasts the legendary 1/3 Bunny Chow (other establishments offer 1/4), filled with local delicacies such as tripe and beans, and trotters curry. – Paddy Harper

Hotel Savera is located on Oak Avenue in Chatsworth. Call 031 403 2975 for reservations. 

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