A fascinating publication provides insight into the lives of ten Durban residents, writes Peter Machen.
One of the most enduring by-products of the recent Cascoland art festival that took place in Durban was the publication of a small book called Along the Way. This vibrant little multicoloured publication profiles the lives of ten residents of Durban who live or work on the route that the festival followed. Designed by Disturbance Design with beautiful photographs from Roger Jardine and texts and transcriptions from Niall McNulty and Tamlyn Young, Along the Way is a beautifully rendered glimpse into the broader life of a city whose textures and aesthetics are infinitely richer than the clichés spouted by the tourism industry.
The book begins at Second River Temple in Cato Manor, where we meet Guru Dhanasargaren, a Hindu priest who encourages people to pray their own way in the sacred spaces of the temple. “I have helped Christians and Moslems, black, white and Indian,” he says. “I believe that you can stand here and pray to the prophet Buddha.”
This acceptance religious of diversity is reflected several pages later when Alpheus Makhoba, a traditional skins tailor who works from his home in Cato Crest, talks about his Shembe faith.” It is the same god we worship, only a different way of reaching him. It is like a tree with many branches”.
But the book celebrates more than religious diversity. It reflects a broad acceptance (as opposed to a more limited tolerance) of the diversity of people in urban Durban and the sheer variety of their economic and social roles. For the many Durbanites who see the city though more narrow lenses, Along the Way is a valuable resource.
Travelling down from Cato Manor along Berea Road, we meet Moses Fano Nxumalo, a street artist, with whose work many Durbanites are familiar. For the past seventeen years Nxumalo has been standing on the corner of Essenwood Road and Berea Road holding a poster of his poetry, translated by his son from Zulu to English. He wrote his first poem (NO WIFE) when his wife left him. “This story is growing with me,” says Nxumalo. “First I was telling the story of my life. Now it is the story of this country, of the comrades oppressing the poor people. I have more stories to write. I am going to write them.”
As the book moves further into the city, we meet Uncle Lenny, a retired whaler, who lives in an old Victorian house in Wills Road in Warwick Avenue; Ntombenhle Hlophe who works in the nearby Bovine Head Market; Ma Dlamini, an inyanga (traditional herbalist) who sells her wares from the herbalist market above Warwick Junction; Mlondi Sithole, a hairdresser who runs his business near the main bus depot in the city centre; Noel Ash, a volunteer cook at the soup kitchen in St Paul’s Cathedral; and Gloria, a car-guard and informal trader on the Esplanade.
These are some of the people of Durban, whose personal stories represent a tiny cross section of the three and a half million interwoven worlds that make up the city, and give us, as the Along the Way puts it, “a greater understanding of the place we call home”.
First published in The Weekend Witness.