Some Durban Public Spaces

All places inhabited by the human race have areas of private space and areas of public space. Private space is where the ‘Right of Admission’ sign is hung. Public space is everything else: streets, squares, parks, open market places and beaches. It is the area where the human collective freely comes and goes. It is in the public space too that the collective human spirit is most clearly seen.

The pictures below arise from connecting with some of Durban’s urban spaces as a commuter on a bicycle. The photographs were taken on an iPhone 6 mobile phone camera. In this way, a cycling photographer can hide but work in plain sight. There are so many people taking selfies in these places that any photographer fades into the collective, seen merely as just another selfie taker. Some of the images are endpoints in travels and some are waypoints; others are surprises, the significance of which was realised only after some thought. They all are spaces that the people of Durban have claimed for their use.

Durban, a city on the east coast of South Africa, is second to Johannesburg as the largest populated area in South Africa. It has the second-largest subcontinental population in the world after India, with isiZulu, English, Urdu, French, Kiswahili, Afrikaans, Portuguese, Mandarin, Dutch and German spoken on Durban’s streets. The economic possibilities in South Africa also make Durban a viable option for many people across the continent. Durban is a cost-effective choice for tourists, and the city is warm all year round with a laid back mood to complement it. Between the central business area and the beach, you could be anywhere in Africa, Pakistan, India or even on the beaches of Brazil. But we do love Durban….

Durban’s Pride (uShaka Beach at 29,52.0135S, 31,2.8517E)

uShaka Marine World remains a major tourist attraction in Durban with its beach front Water World and aquarium, as well as many restaurants and beach lifestyle shops in the adjoining shopping mall. A pier with a view point and Moyos, an African-styled cocktail lounge, overlook the public beach. The Durban beach front boasts a cross section of all the people in Durban at any time of the year, while its diversity also attracts vendors selling plastic buckets and spades for a day at the sea.

Touching the Gate (the end of North Pier, at 29,52.0028S, 3,3.438E)

The entrance to the port of Durban is protected by two piers. At the end of North Pier is a security gate preventing public access to the flashing green starboard beacon that directs ships at the entrance to this port. The flashing beacon at the end of the pier is guarded by port security guards. This beacon is of strategic importance to the port of Durban and South Africa as a whole. Members of the public walk to the end of North Pier just to touch the gate or pose for selfies with family and friends.

A Tribute to our Ancestors (The rocky pier of Blue Lagoon at 29,48.7655S, 31,2.4273E)

The rocky pier of Blue Lagoon is a site of long-rod surf fishermen, families out for a walk and small children on bicycles. Blue Lagoon has long been popular with those whose ancestors came to Africa as indentured labourers for the British colony of Natal, consequently lending a flavour of Mumbai. At the end of the wide pier, long-rod fishermen spread out, while along each side of the concourse sit young couples in love – in plain view of approving family matrons and other aunties.

Catching Crackers (Wilson’s Wharf in the Durban Harbour at 29,52.030S, 31,1.0162E)

While most of the Durban port is fenced off by the national port authorities for security reasons, there are a few spots in the harbour that public foot traffic can still access. At low tide entire families can be seen on these mud flats at Wilson’s Wharf collecting Upogebia Africana, commonly called mud prawns or crackers, to be sold to nearby fishermen as bait. Crackers are widely found in open estuaries along the southern African coastline and are favoured by Durban surf fishermen as live bait. This attraction of crackers as bait has created a cottage industry of people who make a living by collecting and selling the live mud prawn.

Open Access (The new Point Beach promenade at 29,52.1375S and 31,3.0227E)

The opening of the promenade from uShaka Beach to the mouth of the port has expanded public space in the city of Durban. All beach area in the Republic of South Africa is public land by law, and anybody can walk on or swim at South African beaches. The new Point Beach promenade has made access to the beach area more accessible for many more of Durban’s people. Where previously it was restricted by a long walk from uShaka Beach with private clubs backed up to the beach area, there is now a new amphitheatre where young couples sit in the late day light. What once was a private enclave is now free to the public. Water club members of the old Point Beach sip their drinks securely while overlooking the harbour entrance channel and the now-public North Pier.

Be the Change (Gugu Dlamini Park at 29,51.3087S and 31,1.5423E)

Gugu Dlamini was brutally murdered in 1998 after she announced her HIV status on a local radio station. Gugu Dlamini Park is a roof garden over the covered parking area of the Workshop Shopping Centre. The centre piece of this garden is a red ribbon and a mosaic covered dome. The mosaic extends to the walkways connecting the shopping centre to the half-round and shaded seating area surrounding the main mosaic feature. Gugu Dlamini and those affected by HIV will always be remembered through public areas like this – a fitting testimony to the power of the human spirit and the strength of those advocating change.

Ride on In (The North Beach Skatepark at 29,50.7347S and 31,2.1872E)

The North Beach Skatepark is situated between the Bay of Plenty beachfront and the trees of the Durban sunken gardens. The windows of hotels and beach front apartments reflect the sky while simultaneously overlooking the area. Durban skateboard, push scooter and BMX bicycle riders are the whippets of the urban pavement, hated by some in the city and looked up to by others. These riders enjoy the city’s concrete and steel as surfaces on which to jump, glide and skid. This sub-culture perfects its street credentials on a painted concrete backdrop – the work of some of Durban’s talented street artists. The North Beach Skatepark is often used by film and video producers for shoots. South Africa is US Dollar friendly and the skatepark doubles for locations set on the American mainland and elsewhere.

Peace and Quiet (Public pools at 29,51.204S and 31,2.35E)

The crowds have gone. Three young women on a late summer-evening walk enjoy the expanse of these cool, blue, shallow paddling pools, after the human crush of Christmas and the New Year period when personal space is not on offer. New Year’s Eve is now weeks in the past and the crowds are all home in their private spaces. At the public pools, open paving around and in these pools leaves the way clear for a cycling photographer and three women to make what could be made of this late light over the public pools on the Durban beachfront.

A Public Ceremony (North Beach pier at 29,50.8548S and 31,2.3495E)

An event organiser watches over chairs, stands and a ceremonial arch after a Saturday morning wedding ceremony held in this Durban public space. A lawful wedding ceremony in South Africa is a public ceremony and has to take place under a structure with an open door. The North Beach pier suits these requirements and can exploit its wonderful views, while the tassels left blowing in the wind offer snippets of a more romantic feel to this utilitarian pier turned wedding chapel.

Night Life on the Beach Front (City open air gym near 29,50.8123S and 31,2.2053E)

This gym is one of many open air gyms in Durban. The gyms are free to use and they are provided by the metro council. Although basic, the equipment allows exercise and fitness using the body weight of the health enthusiast. During the day, the Durban beach front is the domain of the casual visitor. In the evenings, it becomes the domain of fitness groups and other health-conscious inhabitants who use the area for running, cycling, fitness training and beach soccer.

Durban’s Pastime Food Chain (A public underpass of the Ruth First Highway at 29,48.7017S and 31,2.2682E)

In the deep shade of the underpass, local recreational fishermen and their families spend hot weekend days picnicking and catching fish in the tidal water of the lagoon. This underpass connects a stony pier at one end of Durban’s eight kilometre promenade, and a grassed public park on the water front of the Umgeni River. The deep shadow of the overhead bridge straddles the inter-tidal area of the Umgeni River. Here lies a breeding zone for much local sea life, such as Upogebia Africana (catchers or mud prawns). In turn, many fish are attracted to this food source and, as nature’s food chain would have it, so too are the local fishermen and their families.

From its pride to its pastime, Durban honours our past and embraces our future. It’s a cycle route worth taking with many public places to feed one’s private spaces.

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