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Durban: The reinvention of an African city
March 25, 2013, 4:54 pm


Writer Karen Lotter: “Durban is truly the most African city in Africa. Here in the city of old Colonial Splendour where the iconic Moses Mabhida Stadium is a beacon on the northern shore, you can enjoy some of the best waves and most beautiful beaches in Africa” [AP]

The city will host five heads of states of the world’s leading emerging economies in a high profile summit

One of Africa’s largest and busiest ports, Durban is a cultural melting pot that lives up to South Africa’s beloved Madiba’s vision of a ‘rainbow nation’. It is the third largest city in South Africa with a population of around 3.5 million.

Vasco Da Gama first sighted the Durban Bay in 1497.

Durban is steeped in historical memorabilia and timeless relics like Stone Age cave paintings, Zulu traditions, and the legacy of the apostle of peace Mahatma Gandhi.

The earliest remnants of humanity were discovered in the nearby Drakensberg but before the advent of the Nguni people or the European colonialists, Durban was home to the ‘original’ people of South Africa now known as the khoi or the san.

In 1823, the first European settlement ship arrived with English Lietenant James King who then befriended the iconic military leader, Zulu King Shaka. Shaka granted James King a “25-mile strip of coast a hundred miles in depth”.

In 1835 residents of the territory decided to build a capital and name it “d’Urban” after Benjamin d’Urban, then governor of the Cape Colony.

Durban was annexed to the Cape colony by the British authorities in 1843.

From tiny trading post…

The transformation of this tiny trading post to a settlement and then to the thriving business hub it is today is a spectacular journey.

Called eThekwini in Zulu, Durban is today a sprawling cosmopolitan city making it the largest city in KwaZulu-Natal Province of South Africa.

Lying on the temperate Indian Ocean, Durban’s history has been shaped curiously by traders, war settlers, missionaries, and colonisers.

Durban’s City Hall is the first public building to depict a black man, a crouching figure with a shield in his hand. St. Paul’s Anglican Church is the most historic relic of ancient times of the city, containing memorial tablets that record the city’s history.

Traditional Zulu territory, Durban is now home to a mix population of Africans, Indians and Asians. In fact, the biggest group of Indians outside of India, live in Durban.

The ancient Durban port required workers that came not just from Zululand but from Tongaland, Mozambique and regions along the east coast of Africa and India.

Writer Karen Lotter says, “Durban is truly the most African city in Africa. Here in the city of old Colonial Splendour where the iconic Moses Mabhida Stadium is a beacon on the northern shore, you can enjoy some of the best waves and most beautiful beaches in Africa; you can go from a Symphony Concert in the City Hall to a Bhangra bash or experience the Bollywood movies at the Suncoast Casino. If that isn’t your taste, how about some cool township jazz in one of the many taverns in the surrounding townships or some “shisa nynama” (informal barbeque) form a street grill.”

Trade with India

The first indentured Indian labourers were brought by the British to Durban in 1860. They were soon followed by independent Indian traders. By 1865, there were about 3500 Indian settlers in Durban.

The Indians, who stayed back after the 1920s, became land-owners in and around Durban and along the coast. They diversified into various public sector services and by the 1940s the next generation became the backbone of the emerging industrial working class in Durban.

India and South Africa were united in their struggle for justice and equality against the colonisers and Durban was the crucible of Gandhi’s political awakening.

India’s iconic leader Mahatma Gandhi worked as a lawyer in Durban for 20 years and fought against the unjust laws of the colonisers of South Africa.

Phoenix Settlement was founded by Gandhi in 1904 in Inanda, a Durban precinct to experiment with satyagraha (non-violent resistance), sarvodaya (compassion for everyone) and ahimsa (non-violence).

It was in Inanda, Durban, that the seeds of the African National Conference were planted. John Langalibalele Dube the founding President of the African National Congress was born in Inanda in Durban.

At the height of the apartheid history, on January 9, 1973 some 2,000 workers in the Coronation Brick and Tile factory in Durban decided to strike for a wage of R30 ($3.30) per week after the employers had rebuffed them. A sharp price rise had made it even more difficult for workers to survive on low wages.

Other workers followed. Suddenly workers all over Durban demanded higher wages and better working conditions. The strike began in Durban but spread like wildfire to other parts of the country. The Durban agitation came to be termed ‘the strikes that changed South Africa’.

The tapestry of Durban’s past reflects in the booming present of the truly multicultural city.

“Durban is the melting pot of many South African cultures. It is unashamedly an African city and has embraced and celebrated the diversity of its people with gusto. It has not sought to emulate a European capital or pretended to be something it cannot be. The sights and smells of Durban are unpretentious and authentic. Visitors to our country cannot say they’ve experienced the “real” Mzansi, unless they’ve visited Durban and allowed its warmth to envelope them and to set them free,” says Angela Quintal, editor of The Witness, the oldest continuously published newspaper in South Africa.

For the rest of this article, and other in-depth features, visit The BRICS Age Magazine.

By Daria Chernyshova for The BRICS Age