After several rough days at sea in the Indian Ocean, we sailed into Durban’s downtown Victoria Embankment harbour and docked at the Passenger Terminal which provided easy access to Durban Central (downtown). Sailing south along the South African coast from Mozambique, we first viewed Durban from the north coast, with a vantage similar to that shown above (captured on the beach at Umhlanga, a northern suburb). Durban has the busiest port in both South Africa and the entire African continent.
Durban (called “eThekwini” in the Zulu dialect, meaning lagoon) is the capital of the State of KwaZulu-Natal, a region with a colorful history and home of South Africa’s Zulu tribe. The city has the country’s third largest economy, behind Johannesburg and Cape Town, with a population of 3.5 million (predominantly Zulu, but a melting pot with Indians, Asians, British and Europeans).
Unfortunately, crime remains a major problem in the city. Many private homes have not only walls enclosing the property, but the walls are topped with barbed wire or a combination of barbed wire with razor wire on top. Private security patrol services (they are legally permitted to be armed) are a booming part of the local economy. We toured the city over the course of a couple of days and never felt threatened. However, there are sections of downtown that tourists avoid at night…
The Durban beachfront along the Indian Ocean is a relatively new area of development, aptly called the Golden Mile (although it is three miles long). With a mild climate, the beach area is very popular during the day and at night. Durban is a relatively young city (in terms of colonial settlers) — the first British party of 25 arrived from the Cape Town area in 1824. The Victorian British had first developed the waterfront along harbor, aptly named the Victoria Embankment.
The newest (and most prominent) city landmark is the Moses Mabhida Stadium, built for the 2010 FIFA World Cup, hosted by South Africa in Durban and Cape Town (with its own new soccer stadium for the 2010 games). Built at a cost of hundreds of millions of US dollars, the stadium is regarded by locals as a white elephant, as only seven games, including one semi-final, were played in it during the 2010 FIFA World Cup. The partial roof, hung by cables from the arch, is built of Teflon-coated glass-fiber membranes and covers 88% of the 54,000 (and up to 80,000) seats.
The uniquely designed central arch represents the formerly divided country coming together, modeled on the “Y” design of South Africa’s colorful flag. Visitors can walk up the 550-steps to the top of the arch, or ride up a funicular. There is also a swing from the fourth ladder rung (see photo, above) that allows visitors to jump off and swing in a 720-foot arc over the field.
During the height of the British rule in the 19th Century, sugar cane was a major crop in the area. The brick mansion, pictured above, was built by the British magnate who ran the local sugar business. Notwithstanding the abolition of Apartheid 20+ years ago, Durban’s old wealthy neighborhoods have retained their old splendor and isolation from the melting pot.