Natal's Indian traders rapidly displaced small white shop owners in trade with other Indians, and with black Africans, causing resentment among white businesses. Gandhi arrived in South Africa to represent an Indian businessman in a legal dispute.

A large percentage of indentured labourers returned to India following the expiry of their terms, and some of those who returned alerted authorities in India to abuses taking place in Natal, which led to new safeguards being put in place before further recruiting of indentured labourers was allowed to take place.

Former indentured labourers who didn't return to India quickly established themselves as an important general labour force in Natal particularly as industrial and railway workers, with others engaging in market gardening, growing most of the vegetables consumed by the white population.

They were transported as indentured labourers to work on the sugarcane plantations of Natal Colony, and, in total, approximately 200,000 Indians arrived as indentured labourers over a period of 5 decades, Indians were imported as it was found by colonial authorities that local black Africans were economically self-sufficient, and thus unwilling to subject themselves to employment by colonial farmers, while other colonial authorities believed that the "hunting and warrior" African culture of the time was incompatible with a sudden shift to employed labour.

The Mercury newspaper favoured the importation of labour, although other Natal newspapers were against the idea.

Passenger Indians who moved to the Cape Colony, although facing petty discrimination, were generally well treated, could own property, could vote, and could trade freely.

Many Muslim men in this group married Cape Malay women, and their children were later often classified as Cape Malay. The orange colour show where people of Indian origin were more prevalent.In other areas, such as those marked coloured, they were either a minority or not allowed to enter under apartheid laws.The Durban riots was an anti-Indian riot predominantly by Zulus targeting Indians in Durban, South Africa in January 1949.There is no reference to the real names of these Indians and were given "Christian" names for convenience.This all contributed to the loss of identity similar to the Mozambicans and other slaves who were brought to the Cape.There remains a cultural, religious and racial overlap for "Asians" and "Indian South Africans".