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Undressing Durban: An Ode to Living PDF Print E-mail
Thursday, 22 November 2007 06:50

The image “http://www.sugargirlsandseamen.com/undressing-durban/images/undressing-durban-ad.jpg” cannot be displayed, because it contains errors.In keeping with the tradition of travelogues documenting the progress of South Africa’s often stumbling journey into the democratic arena, much has been written about life in the post-apartheid socio-political sphere. Plays, short stories and novels have been employed to paint vivid pictures of the rainbow nation’s inherited urban landscapes. While some works have been written in tribute to generating better understandings between the historically divided, others have been shared in the spirit of celebrating freedom and newness. From these have arisen products of reflection and identification, catharsis and creative expression. A recent publication that has added to this literary archive is a collection of carefully documented sociological narratives, undertaken by a team of social scientists at the University of KwaZulu-Natal.

Undressing,Durban (2007) edited by Rob Pattman and Sultan Khan, both lecturers in Sociology at UKZN, allows the reader a guided tour behind the scenes of one of South Africa’s most prominent tourist locales. As the title suggests, it undresses the celebrity Durban from its ‘Dressed-up-for-Tourism’ (read ShowTime) vocation in order to reveal the features that everyday citizens must experience, warts and all.

For readers who have ever lived in or visited Durban, the read might inspire new ways of looking at the people who constitute this cosmopolitan city. Guaranteed to surprise, delight, and possibly even shock you, it is filled with often romanticized memoirs of the city’s colourful past devoid of crime and grime, and a present ever-engaged in trying to make sense of the erratic transition. In a variety of flavours, some delightful, others pungent and bitter to the suburban palate, Undressing Durban illustrates the reality of crime and the subsequent abandonment of the Central Business District, engages discourses of race and xenophobia and how these tend to affect individual identity constructions as well as present challenges to living the democratic ideal. The book unpacks issues of social spending by focusing its lens on informal housing settlements, overcrowding in prisons and the plight of street children. It aptly portrays the rich cultural diversity of this important port city, and manages to unearth the varied stories of different generations of people.

Undressing Durban’s powerful appeal derives from being able to touch on an astonishing number of contemporary topics engaging with cultural memory, corporal punishment and education, street life and suburban seclusion, gangsterism and its associated traditions, cultural attitudes to sexuality and to HIV and Aids. Adding to this is an analysis of the much debated love-hate relationship with Jacob Zuma.

In addition, Undressing Durban takes an often critical stance at identifying social taboos, class and racial distinctions, as well as gendered ‘space’ within place and mindset. The book allows the reader to delve into the realms of the obvious and the forbidden, and compares the lives of prostitutes in Point Road and their clandestine counterparts at the notorious dockside. In so doing, it successfully looks at numerous features of city life traditionally left out of the tourist handbooks.

Overall, Undressing Durban manages to successfully present itself as an ardent memoir of the remarkable prowess of this cozy coastal city in managing to sustain within such diverse challenges and successes, a balance of painstaking progress and hopefulness to better times ahead. This highly readable journey through Durban in full living colour should be undertaken by every South African, ex-pat (the perfect take-home gift!) and anyone living in a place they call home, because of and in spite of all that must be endured. Undressing Durban is an ode to living.

http://undressingdurban.blogspot.com

For more on Shafinaaz Hassim, please read our review of Daughters are Diamonds.


 
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