Kwazulu-Natal

It is hard to believe that the first Portuguese shipwreck off South Africa’s east coast occurred almost half a millennium ago. This was the sinking of the large and richly laden Portuguese ship, the Sao Joao, off Port Edward in 1552. Barely two years later a second shipwreck took place, that of the Sao Bento at the Msikaba River mouth, about mid-way between Port St Johns and Port Edward.

The Penn Symons flag arrived in the post addressed to the Museum Dundee back in the early 1980s. It has been on permanent display in the museum since 1983. It has an interesting story and one that is personally connected to my forebears.

 

“I have had, in the last four years, the advantage, if it be an advantage, of many strange and varied experiences. But nothing was so thrilling as this: to wait and struggle among these clanging, rending iron boxes, with the repeated explosions of the shells and the artillery, the grunting and puffing of the engine – poor, tortured thing, harassed by at least a dozen shells, any one of which, by penetrating the boiler, might have made an end to it all”. W.L.S. Churchill.

 

July is mid-summer and warm in New York. But in this world city, July 1965, Nat felt cold, miserable, depressed and missing his country, his people.

Nataniël Nakzana Nakasa, popularly known as Nat, could not ever return to his country of birth. The premier placing this restriction on his passport which prevented him from returning to South Africa, was none other than the architect of apartheid, Dr Verwoerd. Verwoerd, as Nat once commented, was himself not even born in South Africa (Dutch), while Nat was.

On a recent visit to the Resource Centre of the Johannesburg Heritage Foundation at the Holy Family College, Oxford Road, Johannesburg, a new acquisition was on display, namely a brass name plate from the architectural firm “Kallenbach, Kennedy and Furner ARIBA  Architects“. The brass plaque had been donated to JHF by Ronald Sutherland of Durban.

 

Battle of Isandlwana painting - via Ditsong Museum

Physical combat has to be the most exhilarating experience that any man can have. Obviously, all-out effort, commitment and ferocity are required to win the day. None have displayed this more effectively than the Zulus, and their reputation is legendary. However, over some time various authors have postulated that, apart from an adrenaline-induced state of hyper-aggressiveness, the Zulus were “doctored” with hallucinogenic material to enhance these effects prior to engaging in battle.

The first few Indians in South Africa were imported by the Dutch East India Company in the seventeenth century as slaves. They were mainly from Bengal and South India. Simon van der Stel’s maternal grandmother, Monica da Costa (Monica of the Coast), was from Bengal. Some Indians were also aboard ships that were wrecked off the Cape Coast. A few of them survived and became spouses of the local inhabitants. In 1820 a number of Indians from Bencoolen were brought to the Cape by Mr Hare on the condition that the colony was not to be responsible for these Indians.

"An ancient song, as old as the ashes, Echoed as Mageba’s warriors marched away." South African Contemporary Folk Song. Johnny Clegg and Savuka.

Colonel Anthony Durnford is probably the most enigmatic, controversial and colourful character associated with the British defeat at Isandlwana. Incontrovertibly the senior officer present, history has blamed him for the disaster for failing to exercise effective command and control.

 

The SAIA - KZN Regional Heritage Committee in Durban has raised alarm about the Barrie Biermann House currently under threat of demolition. Robert Brusse (in the chair), together with Rodney Harber, Trish Emmett, Lindsay Napier and Kirk White have launched a national appeal. The heritage community including architects everywhere wish to object to the demolition of this modernist Durban architectural gem.

A casualty rate of 10% of forces engaged in battle is today considered as catastrophic. British casualties at Isandlwana number some 70%, which constitutes annihilation. Zulu numbers have always been exaggerated, but current thinking is approximately 3000 dead out of an attacking force of about 20000, which works out at more than 10%. So the battle may also be considered catastrophic for the Zulus, although they did come away with the entire contents of the camp, which was their ultimate objective.

When the Boer raiding party rode into Elandslaagte on 19 October 1899  they first made a turn at David Harris’ imposing red-brick residence. Harris, the General Manager of the Elandslaagte Colliery, was having dinner with Simpson Mitchell-Innes of the farm “Blanerne”, who was also one of the Directors of the Colliery. The ten minutes spent in conversation there gave the acting Station Master, G.P. Atkinson and his clerk, D. Christie, an opportunity to warn Ladysmith of the Boer’s arrival via the telegraph.

Known as “Long Toms”, the four 155mm siege guns installed in the forts to protect Pretoria, were supposed to be far too big and cumbersome to move, yet one of them (nicknamed Schanskop Tom), which had originally been installed at Fort Schanskop, was used to drive the British out of Dundee. It was manoeuvred up Impati Mountain and shelled the British camp on Ryley’s Hill. Unable to retaliate, the British were forced to withdraw from Dundee and make a hazardous, but mostly uncomfortable (in the pelting rain) retirement to Ladysmith.

Durban, to me is a motley memory of youthful, carefree and sunny beach holidays. While Cape Town offers stunning vistas, top-end restaurants and a sense of Europe-in-Africa, it somehow feels clinical in comparison. The exotic fragrances, clamour, sub-tropical climate and personal recollections are what most attract me to this colourful Indian Ocean city.

Last weekend my husband Keith and I spent a weekend in Durban as guests of the Durban Art Deco Society (DADS). I was there to deliver the lecture at the Annual General Meeting of the Society on the Sunday morning at the Phansi Museum but we had about 26 hours to see Durban and pleasure the pulse of the Indian Ocean city which had been Keith’s home town and my favourite teenage holiday destination. I knew Durban from my childhood sojourns and then family visits to the grandparents once we had settled in Johannesburg but in recent years our visits have dwindled so

With reference to the early Durban based photographers Caney, one author recently confirmed the challenge in “disentangling” the relationship between the various Caney individuals.

The number of Caney photographs identified in the Hardijzer Photographic Research Collection also confirms that closer scrutiny was required as to who these photographers were. The photographs in this research collection, all dating from prior to 1905, include studio-based images as well as images captured during the Anglo-Boer war.

Dawn. Dundee, Natal. 20 October 1899. It was bitterly cold. Indeed, it had uncharacteristically snowed the previous week. Huge banks of fog covered the town and surrounding high ground. Intermittent drizzle made everything clammy and miserable. Breath puffed out like a steam train. All in all, a time for any sensible person to be indoors, in bed.

Although suffering from the worst drought in decades, one hopes that the rainy season is going to hit Zululand with a vengeance this year. From mid October onwards the heavens open up and the countryside transforms itself from harsh, barren, rock strewn tawny hillsides into rolling slopes covered with emerald green grass, rushing rivers and sparkling air. Looming massively on the skyline, and lit most afternoons by truly spectacular forked lightning streaking across the pitch black sky, Itala Mountain has a particularly eerie feel to it.

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