I should be a great believer in coincidence. I am a TV addict and often find myself flicking around the channels. Just before flying out to Durban, and whilst planning my visit to the city, I flicked through the documentary channels and found a programme all about Durban. The programme took me on a tour of people, lifestyle, culture, diversity, city planning, architecture and history. By the end of the programme Durban had been declared the ‘smartest’ city in Africa. In a matter of weeks I would be in that smart city.

I was familiar with its sport and beaches but wanted to know more about the history and culture. After a day of exploring Durban with Zamani, my Zulu guide, I changed my plans for the next day and asked if he was available again. Siza Luthuli from Durban Tourism had mentioned the Heritage Route which I was not familiar with. Siza shared his patience, flexibility and knowledge as I changed my plans.

Before the sun broke the horizon over the Indian Ocean I was up and about. From my room at the Gooderson Tropicana I watched people making their way along the beachfront. Down below me women were setting up their market stalls. Grass mats covered the floors and traditional colourful dresses were hung under the tarpaulin tops. Having a couple of hours before meeting Zamani I walked down the beach to Ushaka Marine World and then back up to Jo Cools before returning to the hotel for breakfast. Breakfast is a meal that sets me up for the day, well most of it anyway. At the Gooderson Tropicana it was perfect. Fresh tropical fruits with yogurt, followed by many choices of cooked mains from the buffet. I even took a freshly cooked omelette to accompany my sausage, bacon and hash browns. Now I was ready for my second day.

Zamani collected me again and off we headed. He was bought up in the area we were visiting and as we drove from place to place people waved and flashed their headlights at us. His smile always grew as he acknowledged everyone. Spending time with him meant we could talk about Zulu traditions along with the places we were seeing. He explained his thoughts on lobolo, the tradition of a prospective husband giving gifts, normally cattle, to his new father in law. Various reasons meant that for modern South Africans this was no longer the norm due to things like a lack of land for cattle and a need for cash. We drove through areas with poor housing and good housing. Some tightly packed and cramped for space some with vegetable gardens. Zamani explained that some areas had seen disputes and conflict between Indian and Zulu people.

There are eighteen places of interest on the Inanda Heritage Route plus various other stop off points. We would not have time to see everything in my limited time so Zamani had picked out a small selection. All this is within easy reach of Durban and less than a forty minute drive out of the city. Our first stop was at a view point to help me get my bearings on exactly where we were. Looking back down onto the city I could see the soccer stadium making a focal point. To our left was the ocean and King Shaka International Airport and on to the right in the distance the Valley of a Thousand Hills. Directly below us were houses on dirt roads winding through valleys.

At Inanda Seminary we were met by a young student for our tour. I had never heard of the school or had any idea of its history. It’s the oldest all girls in Southern Africa and was opened by American missionary’s in 1869. The aim of the school was to educate its black students and prepare them for life in general. These skills were originally more homely studies, dress making and cooking. Now students who have graduated from here can be found working in law courts and government. The schools motto is ‘shine where you are’ and I am sure, like our guide, these girls will continue to shine.

Next it was Ohlange High School, somewhere I had seen on TV but did not know its name or its significance. It was here in 1994 that Nelson Mandela voted in South Africa’s first democratic elections. The guides here were enthusiastic and passionate. I wondered if guide Mandla Nxumalo had been there when Nelson had cast his vote? The site also includes John Dubes house, the founder of the school and the first ANC president. Last year I had visited Nelson Mandelas capture site at Howick, and before his capture he had attended a meeting here at Ohlange.

Our third and final stop was the Phoenix Settlement. I had walked in this great mans footsteps at Spoinkop Battlefield but had no idea of his overall South African history. Mahatma Ghandi had established the settlement in 1904 and it has always stood for many things including peace and justice. A time line on site records events in this mans life just prior to his arrival in South Africa, his time in the country and his eventual assassination back in India in 1948. During riots in 1985 the settlement was raised to the ground. Then in 1994 the site was meticulously rebuilt and includes his homestead and printing works. The newspaper he established there is still printed and distributed to this day.

It was an honour to have followed in so many great people’s footsteps and met so many people dedicated to preserving their history. Not far beyond the city beaches of Durban and its sports stadiums is a wealth of human history. Special thanks again to Zamani Shelembe my excellent guide. Thanks also to Siza and all those at Durban Tourism for their patience. I will be back to Durban and cricket will not be my priority.

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People say that Africa has an effect on your soul and Mark Henson the ‘author’ of this site is no exception. He first travelled to South Africa and the province of KwaZulu-Natal in 1993 and has been coming and going every year since. Twice now most years!

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