Cultural fascination in Durban

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Where ancestral Zulu traditions dwell alongside iconic legends that shaped our modern world

The South African city of Durban is unique in its blend of cultural attractions; on the one hand being the star city of KwaZulu Natal – the heart of Zululand, and on the other being the place where highly important episodes of modern history took place, centred on legends such as Mahatma Gandhi and Nelson Mandela. For many visitors to Durban, these cultural visits are truly transformational.

Paul Mikula, Phansi Museum founder

Phansi: where the ancestral spirits dwell…

In IsiZulu, phansi means “below” – the place beneath us where the ancestral spirits dwell.

While appearing small from the outside, the Phansi Museum in Durban is a veritable cultural beacon, occupying three floors of one of the few domestic national historic monuments in the city. The museum houses some of the finest examples of African Ubuntu artworks dating back to the mid 19th Century. Tours are led by a team of spirited guides who are familiar with the many traditions and objects on display, headed by the impassioned and animated museum founder, Paul Mikula.

“Anyone visiting this place comes away feeling different,” explains Mikula. “There was never a term for ‘art’ in Africa. It’s just something people did. They wanted things to be beautiful. They loved the patterns of the sky and the trees and the animals, and they had respect for them. As the tree was also alive, it would suggest to the sculptor the shape it wanted to give up. The beauty would also stem from the simplicity of the work.”

In 1994, Nelson Mandela cast his vote in South Africa’s first democratic elections

Heritage Route: in the footsteps of Gandhi, Dube and Mandela

The Inanda Heritage Route features the home base of Mahatma Gandhi before his return to India. Living in South Africa for over 20 years, Gandhi developed his political and ethical views at the Phoenix settlement, which he established in 1904. His house has recently been restored thanks to a grant from the Indian Government, seen today as a “beacon of reconciliation and peace”.

To the west of Durban, the Nelson Mandela Capture Site at Howick, where Madiba was arrested in 1961, features the Apartheid Museum. In 1994, it was in Durban that Nelson Mandella cast his vote in South Africa’s first democratic elections at the Ohlange Secondary School now known as Ohlange Institute. Fitting, given that the first president of what was to become the African National Congress, Dr John L. Dube, established this school in 1901. Dube is buried on a plot on the property.

Traditional Zulu dancers at PheZulu Safari Park

PheZulu Safari Park introduces new Segway tours and welcome centre 

A 25-year-old business, the PheZulu Safari Park and Reptile Park is the largest privately-owned tourist destination in the Durban area. Over the past year, the park has introduced Segway tours, hosting up to five guests at a time. An old thatched welcome centre which burned down having been hit by lightning in 2018 has been replaced with a larger, more modern building, housing a scenic restaurant – overlooking the famed 1,000 hills and souvenir store.

At PheZulu village, the world famous Gasa clan allows visitors the opportunity to savour the taste and feel the rhythm of Africa. After a traditional Zulu dance show, visitors are taken into traditional beehive shaped thatched huts, where the various artefacts, beliefs and rituals are explained.

PheZulu Safari Park General Manager Tristan Dickerson explains, “If someone is here in Durban for culture, they don’t have to drive far. It’s just a half an hour’s drive for people to come here and see the Zulu dance and cultural show, then they can head down to see the Phoenix settlement and the Inanda institute.”

 

IMPORTANT DATES

June 7, 1893: Mohandas (later known as Mahatma) Gandhi was pushed out of an “all-white” first class train carriage in South Africa, sparking his quest to end discrimination

August 5, 1962: Mandela is arrested in Durban

April 27, 1994: The now free Mandela votes in first non-racial elections – at birthplace of the ANC


Photo: In 1994, Nelson Mandela cast his vote in South Africa’s first democratic elections