Credit: Mitchell Park, Morningside, Durban by Chris Bloom on Flickr


Home Coming: Changing Demographics

Cars are zooming up and down Sandile Thusi as I take my morning walk along Currie Road. I wait patiently to cross over from Essenwood to Morningside. When I finally get a break, I run across and walk to Montpelier Road. I turn left and head up toward Jameson and Mitchel Parks. The street names are a hint at how some things have changed while others remain the same. Heroes and heroines of the anti-apartheid struggle are honored in the renaming of streets. However, some streets still hold onto their colonial, British namesakes despite the official effort to rename them.

Sandile Thusi was a member of the South African Youth Congress, a black researcher at the University of Natal who was imprisoned for his activism, endured solitary confinement, and survived a 38-day hunger strike.[1] Henry Currie, a British settler, was a Chartist whose left-wing views led him to seek refuge in South Africa. In 1858 he and his wife, Sarah, built their home on the Berea Ridge. He became a town councillor and mayor and is most well-known for sinking a well, Curries Fountain, just below the Durban Botanical Gardens, to provide clean water to the town[2].

When I grew up in 1970s and 1980s Durban, Essenwood and Morningside were exclusive wealthy, white suburbs. Now these suburbs, though still wealthy communities, are mixed race. Even now, whites call these neighborhoods home, though many have fled the country while those who remain have moved out of the city either north to Umhlanga, Mount Edgecombe, and Ballito or inland to Kloof and Hillcrest. Wealthy Indians, predominantly Muslim, have moved in from neighboring Ashville and Overport. I love that this is no longer a whites-only community. I chose to buy a flat in this area because I wanted to live in a multi-racial, multi-cultural community. I did not want to be in a white flight community.

Whites who have chosen to remain here have accepted the changing demographics. The parks here are still well groomed, calm, and inviting. Yet they don’t seem to entice many people now. As a child I came often to Mitchel Park with my mother or grandmother. We loved to visit the small zoo, run around on the expansive lawns in the shade of giant trees. We always stopped for tea and scones or fanta and toasted cheese sandwiches. The outdoor restaurant finally succumbed under the strain of extended COVID closures. However, I suspect, it may also have failed to adapt to the demographics of the community.

As I walk down Florida Road, I pass a collection of eateries in a plaza under the shade of giant trees. I stop at the Barn Owl, a hip coffee spot. The patrons sitting at tables under the trees are racially diverse. Here is where I find a group of young Muslim mothers in their black robes with babies on their lap and young children running around and playing. Would they have hung out in Mitchell Park when the café was still open?

I have much to learn about the changes in this community.

[1] Source: Jack Read, March 27, 1989, The longest participant in a hunger strike among political… UPI.

[2] Source: David Livingstone, 20 Oct 2017, The ghosts of Currie road, The Mercury.