KwaZulu-Natal – Hot History!

by Marlijn van Berne

KwaZulu-Natal or KZN is my favourite province. Of course it is – this is my stomping ground, and apart from being totally biased, it is just one heck of an interesting place to be!

Although no one knows with absolute certainty, the Bushmen or San people of the latter Stone Age era are largely considered to be the first “Homo Sapiens” to have populated the eastern side of Southern Africa including KwaZulu-Natal. Their legacy includes some of the finest rock art known to man, ingrained on the walls of the Drakensberg Mountains sandstone caves, right up to what is now Mpumalanga, as well as the central hinterland and down to the Western Cape. Some of the art is estimated to be some 8000 years old.

Although there is no record of Portuguese explorer, Vasco de Gama, having ever set foot on our shores, this famous explorer rounded the Cape with four boats in 1497 and named the east coast of South Africa “Terra Natalis.” In 1575, three-quarters of a century and countless shipwrecks later, the then King of Portugal, weary of the countless sailors adrift, drowned and/or stranded on our beaches, ordered for an accurate map of the eastern South African coastline, so that our visitors could find safe harbours for their storm-threatened ships. History lauds surveyor, Mr Perestrelo, as having produced a “reasonably accurate” map of the Natal Coastline; an area located between the Umtata River in the south and the Tugela River in the north. He also named Durban as Ponta Pescaria and St Lucia as Lagoa Santa Lucia. Unfortunately, despite the map, large numbers of European visitors continued to find themselves bedraggled and hugging our coastline. So many in fact, that by 1705, Port Natal became known as the “Engelsche Logie” or the Englishman’s Inn, by the Dutch East India Company sailors, because of the many British shipwreck survivors living there.

Fast-forward to 1994 (sorry, but that’s the power of the pen!) and KwaZulu becomes a part of South Africa et voila! it merges with the former Natal to become KwaZulu-Natal. Many wonderful and historical events have taken place in this province, some of which resulted in the erection of memorials that can still be enjoyed and explored.

Within the Durban surroundings and a mere hop and a skip removed from the AIDS Conference, you will find the imposing stone-coloured eThekwini (formerly Durban) City Hall, topped off with a coppered dome. Built in the early 1900s, the city hall is a flamboyant example of Edwardian        neo-Baroque architecture and boasts the mayor’s municipal chambers, an auditorium and a public library, as well as the Durban Art Gallery and Natural Science Museum. The museum houses a fine collection of fossils, and the art gallery showcases a variety of South African and international artworks. Bordering on city hall you will find Luthuli Farewell Square built in honour of early trader Lieutenant Francis Farewell and Nobel Peace Prize winner, Albert Luthuli. The fight against the apartheid regime produced many heroes and claimed many lives – and Albert John Mvumbi Luthuli was one of many, who fought tirelessly for the freedom of his people.

Travelling further afield, there are a number of other very worth-while historical sites to visit. Up to the north (count on at least a 5 hour round-trip) you will find the KwaZulu Cultural Museum in Ondini in the Valley of Zulu Kings near Ulundi, which houses iconic symbols of Zulu culture, including the tall, flat-topped Isidkloko headdress, beaded love letters and the spear and shield.

Directly west of Durban you will find the Mandela Capture Site near Howick – and the Ghandi Monument in Pietermaritzburg – commemorating two remarkable men who changed the lives of many. The Mandela Capture Site was a fairly unassuming landmark until 2012, when the site underwent a metamorphosis with the arrival of an impressive steel sculpture by artist Marco Cianfanelli and architect Jeremy Rose, which creates something of an optical illusion with 50 steel poles of varying heights which as they merge, form an image of Mandela’s face. Decades earlier, Ghandi arrived in South Africa in 1893 after accepting a position at an Indian law firm. He witnessed first-hand the enforced atrocities and subordinate nature of the Indian community and their struggle for civil rights in South Africa. In support, Ghandi promoted non-violent civil disobedience also known as satyagrah, the philosophy and practice of non-violent or civil resistance. A bronze statue was erected in Church Street, Pietermartizburg in honour of a man who believed in ‘respectful disagreement’.

But.. if you really want to ‘steep’ yourself in historical drama for the better part of a day, then you would have to visit The Anglo-Zulu battlefields of Isandlwana and Rorke’s Drift – a wonderful historic attraction commemorated near the town of Dundee, where knowledgeable tour guides will provide you with knuckle-bitingly accurate accounts of the long and bloody battles fought here in 1879. Steeped in the blood of the English, Boer (Dutch-speaking farmers) and Zulu alike, the battlefields offer a number of self-drive routes past battle sites, historical buildings, museums, memorials and graveyards “from a bygone era”. But that is not all, aside from this history, the there are many other, exciting, activities to enjoy, ranging from white-water rafting, sailing and visiting a number of Zulu Cultural Villages, to spending time at one of the many Nature Reserves (the Chelmsford Dam Nature Reserve, Weenen Nature Reserve, Spioenkop Dam Nature Reserve, Ntendeka Wilderness Area and Ithala Game Reserve) which all provide an opportunity to explore this region’s abundant birdlife and wildlife.

Basically, you will get as much out, as you put in. So get moving! and enjoy as much as you can, while you are here!