The transfer of sediment from the upper continental slope to rise is poorly documented along the southeast African passive margin. New swath bathymetric and sub-bottom data collected in the Natal Valley, southwest Indian Ocean, provide insight into the evolution of the Tugela canyon and fan system. Several distinct downslope changes in canyon morphology are noted. The canyon increases in relief and widens with depth. Basement outcrop is restricted to the head of the canyon becoming less prominent with depth. Step-like terracing of the canyon walls and floor becomes prominent in the mid-slope portions of the canyon and is related to a marked increase in the cross sectional asymmetry of the canyon profile. The contemporary Tugela canyon rests within a depression of the last phase of infilling. The canyon is the product of downslope erosion, and incision, caused by several phases of hinterland uplift in the mid Oligocene, mid Miocene and late Pliocene. Each phase was followed by pelagic infilling of the palaeo-canyon form. Downslope, the uplift phases are preserved in the cut-terraces and axial incisions within the main canyon thalweg. The contemporary canyon is a moribund feature, sediment starvation of the shelf area by current sweeping of the Agulhas current has decreased the material available for canyon incision and fan development. Additional current sweeping by the North Atlantic Deep Water current has stunted the development of the associated fan complex.