The Battle of Clairwood

While I was happily taking photos a week or two back, I did not realise that “Clairwood residents are fighting for their monuments (homes)”.

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I did a little research and found that The Independent on Saturday reported the following:

Clairwood residents are fighting to stay in their south Durban homes – one of the first settlements of Indian indentured labourers – and have vowed to save their listed and national monument buildings from demolition.

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Temples, churches and old homes are the legacy of the first Indian settlers in KwaZulu Natal, but Clairwood residents feel their history and homes are under threat as the new dig-out port at the old Durban International airport begins to take shape.

It is for this reason that the few remaining residents in the area are putting up a fight against being driven out as the eThekwini municipality aims to create a back-of-port logistics hub in their suburb.

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Chairman of the Clairwood Ratepayers Association Rishi Singh said Clairwood was one of the first settlements of Indian people in KwaZulu-Natal.

“The heritage cannot be replaced. We have listed buildings and religious places, and people like Judge Navi Pillay and the late minister Roy Padayachie all come from here”

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Singh said residents were worried about how the dig-out port would affect their lives, and said no consultation had been done with the community before the release of the draft back-of-port plans.

“They are saying we won’t be affected, and then they say that we might – they have no answer for us,” said Singh.

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He said the municipality allowed illegal businesses to flourish in the area and were now using that as an excuse to rezone the area for business. “How can you justify that?”

The idyllic setting of Clairwood became an area where Indian indentured labourers, who had completed their contracts, settled to raise their families. Despite eking out a living by cultivating vegetables, the community built temples, churches, schools and community centres.

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The St Louis Catholic Church on Jacobs Rd is a national monument.

Prof Dianne Scott, from UKZN’s School of Development Studies, in her thesis on Clairwood, aspects of which are contained in a 2010 souvenir brochure of Clairwood to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the arrival of Indians in South Africa, describes Clairwood as the heart of early Indian settlement in Durban. It was in the area known as the South Coast Junction, or Clairwood and District, that the largest Indian settlement outside India became established in the 1880’s.

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The market gardens created by the residents supplied vegetables, fruit and flowers to Durban and Pietermaritzburg.

In the 1950s, the Durban City Council wanted to rezone Clairwood as an industrial area, to create a racially-zoned city and industrialise the south.

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According to Scott, the Clairwood and District Residents and Ratepayers Association opposed the move, but the removal of people in the area by the city was undertaken via the termination of leases on council-owned property and through expropriation of land. Individual premises were demolished as slums. It was estimated that about 40 000 people had to leave the area.

And now, history might be repeating itself.

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Public meetings are under way in Clairwood, Merebank, Isipingo and the Bluff to hear residents’ concerns.

eThekwini municipality has maintained that no resident, listed buildings or religious places of worship would be forced to move.

The Independent on Saturday visited Clairwood to find out which buildings the community is guarding so fiercely.

The area is a mix of face-brick houses and secure, opulent homes sitting adjacent to dilapidated homes inhabited by squatters, plus the bane of the community – trucking businesses.







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Despite the odd mix, residents do not want to move and Singh said the community would fight to protect their buildings that have formed a central part of their daily lives over the past 150 years.

Just off the Old South Coast Road sits the St Louis Catholic Church, a national monument, which was named after King Louis XVI of France.

In the second half of the 19th century, Mauritian Creole families also settled in Clairwood, bringing with them their culture and Catholic faith.

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In 1942 Father Weist and the parishioners built the present church. The other church, which was on the corner of Jacobs and South Coast roads, was not suitable.

The Shree Siva Soobramoniar Temple, known as the Sirdar Road temple, is a well-known place of worship.

The history of the temple dates back to 1889 and even today chariot parades and various religious observances are performed at the temple, which was built with money donated by the community.

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The Muslim community in Clairwood needed a cemetery and Madrassah (a place of learning), and in the early 1900’s the Flower Road Mosque was built. The land was purchased from the Durban council using donations from the community, and the cemetery also served the greater Durban area.

With red, polished floors and cream and green-trimmed pillars, the Clairwood Boy’s Primary School, in Done Road, is on the heritage list. The pretty and well maintained courtyard area forms the anchor of the classroom blocks that wrap around it, with some of the original wooden beams still standing strong.

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Several other wood-and-iron buildings are still standing.

Ros Devereaux, of the heritage body Amafa, said these buildings made them items of historical importance, and because these buildings were listed – meaning that they have been identified as being of historical importance and more than 60 years old – it was difficult to demolish them.

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“These buildings are typical of the old Clairwood, and there are several in the area, but under extreme circumstances demolition would be allowed,” said Devereaux.

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She said there needed to be a way to keep the buildings and show how people lived in the old days so the context of the area would not be lost.”

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18 thoughts on “The Battle of Clairwood”

  1. i live here for 14 years i stayed in the house with the sugar cane i think its sastri rd 1995-2000 i actual know the lady in the picture i went to south coast madressa 1994-2000 the bridge was beautiful it had venders fruits and snack at night the light was great we would run up and down the park was a play ground for all kids as far as umbilo ,umlazi,montclaire, after school it would be packed but know just a jungle.the mango tree’s,bor and figs,and India temples and dance and festival it was a melting pot of people, cultures,religions long live clairewood in the heart of all the kids you nutured we are today because of you and your beauty.

    1. nicely said I schooled in Clairwood and played in the district . Had many enjoyable time there

  2. Warm, but not sentimental. Beautiful – one can see the happy-sad memories here. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if these could be thoughtfully restored for and with residents!

  3. I grew up in Durban Clairwood. Born and bred, I now live and work in Johannesburg and I must add that sipho is correct and how I miss my childhood and the cultural education that came with growing up in Clairwood.

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