Home Coming: Gracious old ladies and modern mansions

The air is pleasant, warm with a light ocean breeze as I set out on my morning walk along Currie Road toward the intersection at Sandile Thusi. Everywhere there is lush, deep green, tropical growth. Bright purple and pink flowers of the Tibouchina Grandiflora sway in the morning breeze.

The homes are sequestered behind high concrete walls topped with electric wires for added security. Fear fueled the installation of these security measures in the early days of democracy. And high crime rates have made them an ongoing necessity. After rain storms the electric wiring often shorts out; this is the pinging that disturbed me earlier and got me up and out for my walk. 

Some of the old brick and plaster Edwardian style Durban homes with wide verandas overlooking the ocean have survived. Gracious old ladies with curved lines and detailed trim. Others have been updated and modernized, a sleek blend of curves and glass. While a number of these homes were razed and new modern mansions and gigantic, angular, glass and concrete apartment complexes have displaced them. Perched on the Berea ridge, all of the homes have sweeping views of the city and the ocean.

White residents I talk with lament the losses of the Durban they once knew. They mourn the demise of the old ladies, they point to the disheveled sidewalks and the security guards stationed outside some of the homes, bemoaning this new reality. As I pick my way around piles of rubble and red dirt dumped on the sidewalk outside one of the many construction sites, I feel their frustration, I see what they see.

While people here see decay and loss, for me there is a joy in seeing this community still thriving. I understand the frustration and desire to have things neat and tidy. But I remember the price everyone paid to keep these communities pristine and white. I celebrate the architectural and design sensibilities of the Indian families who are reshaping this formerly white community.