My whirlwind tour of South Africa is heating up, both figuratively and literally. We arrived in Durban to summer-like temperatures and a few warm breezes from the Indian Ocean. I was able to pack a little summer fun on the beaches while in Durban, but I was much more interested in learning about the city and it’s people. More than one million residents of Indian descent live in the city, which provides for an extremely strong Indian influence across town. The city is also at heart in a heavily populated Zulu area which also holds a large influence too.
I started my tour of Durban at the Kwa Muhle Museum which recounts the stories and history of the system of apartheid focusing on the pass book system. The building that houses the museum was the former office that black Africans were forced to go to get their working papers/passes to either stay in Durban proper or to be forced to a township outside of town. Many of the stories that I learned about while there talked about the struggle and disappointment that people went through in order to see where they would be placed based on an arbitrary ruling by an official.
It was also interesting to learn about bridges attempting to be built between the African National Congress (ANC) and the Communist Party through the story of Josiah Tshangana Gumede. He was a co-founder and leader within the ANC who later became sympathetic to the Communist Party which unfortunately caused him to be ousted from the ANC. As time progressed the ANC and the South African Communist Party began to work as allies to end apartheid and ensure that all human rights are protected. This was an interesting perspective to look at South African history as Communism is still taboo within the western world.
With the context set from the museum, it was also interesting to see how the city operates. While at Victoria Street Market, the curio and spice shops for the most part all catered to tourists. However, once I stepped foot outside and onto the streets of the city, I saw another, more real side of the city. People were selling homemade elixirs and herbs, cow heads were waiting to be taken home, and clothes were waiting to be worn.
I also visited a Hindu temple while in Durban, and again, contextualized, this experience brought home the idea that South Africa is promoting of itself as a “Rainbow Nation” that now is inclusive of everyone. With over 70% of the Indian population being Hindu, it was provided a sense again of how people live in the city. We spoke with the people at the temple as the told us the history of it and some of the stories about the separate rooms in the complex.
With these three seemingly competing stories, Durban is making it work in line with the rainbow vision set forth.