Durban’s Memorials

By 23rd October 2019 Articles

As part of Heritage Month this past September the South African National Society challenged its members to photograph memorials and statues in and around Durban. SANS treasurer, Myra Boyes, rose to the challenge, compiling a great selection of photographs.

Below are the memorials documented by Boyes:

Diaz Memorial on Margaret Mncadi Avenue
Diaz Memorial on Margaret Mncadi Avenue

The Diaz Memorial can be found next to the Durban Maritime Museum. The memorial was erected in honour of the Portuguese sailor, Bartolomeu Dias (Bartholomew Diaz), who led an expedition along the coast of Africa in 1488, and was the first explorer to round the southernmost tip of Africa, thereby opening the sea routes to India.

The Mendi Memorial is also at the Durban Maritime Museum. The memorial stone was unveiled as part of Armed Forces day in 2017, and commemorates the hundreds of men who died when the troopship sank on the 21st February 1917. The sinking of the Mendi is considered the greatest wartime maritime disaster ever suffered in South Africa, yet until recently very few people knew about it.

In May 1842, the Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers, an Irish line infantry regiment of the British Army, arrived in Port Natal under the leadership of Captain Charlton Smith. The village of ‘Kongela, held by the Boers, was only a few kilometres from the British camp, and at midnight on the 23rd May the British launched an attack. The village was well defended though and the attack failed dismally. In response to this defeat, Smith sent Dick King on his historic ride to Grahamstown to bring reinforcements to the embattled British regiment, which ultimately led to the British being victorious.  

The Dick King statue on Margaret Mncadi Avenue
The Dick King statue on Margaret Mncadi Avenue

Richard “Dick” King was an English trader at Port Natal famed for his 1842 horse ride. Legend has it that in 10 days, instead of the usual 17, King rode 960 kilometres through the wilderness, crossing 120 rivers in order to helped the besieged British garrison at Port Natal.

A statue commemorating Dick King and his historic horse ride stands proudly on Margaret Mncadi Avenue. The statue was created by Italian marble artist, Adolfo Ascoli, and was erected on the 14th August 1915.

King Dinuzulu kaCetshwayo statue in King Dinuzulu Park
King Dinuzulu kaCetshwayo statue in King Dinuzulu Park

In King Dinizulu Park, opposite the Durban Institute of Technology, you will find a statue of King Dinuzulu kaCetshwayo, the Zulu king from 1884 until his death in 1914. The statue faces that of General Louis Botha who was recognised as a war hero, having fought in both the first and second Boer Wars. After the wars, Botha went into politics, becoming the first president of the Union of South Africa in 1910.  

On becoming Prime Minister, Botha released the Dinuzulu, who was found guilty of treason in March 1908 for his part in the Bambatha Rebellion, from prison. While he had always maintained his innocence, he was sentenced to four years in jail. Botha believed that his old friend had not been given a fair trial and so pardoned him. 

Jacobs concentration camp, circa 1902
Jacobs concentration camp, circa 1902

A site that many people might not be aware of is the Jacobs Concentration Camp Memorial on Voortrekker Road in the Bluff. During the latter part of the Second Boer War the British applied a scorched-earth policy, destroying the farms and the homes of civilians in order to prevent the still-fighting Boers from obtaining food and supplies. This left women and children without a means to survive and concentration camps were established in order to house Boer families who had been displaced. The camps were poorly conceived and ill-equipped to deal with the large numbers of detainees. Of the 3 000 inmates, 47 people died while at the camp and were buried in the Jacobs Concentration Camp cemetery. This was the last Natal concentration camp to close in February 1903. 

The Voortrekker Camp Memorial, located on the corners of Voortrekker Street and Thorn Road in Congella Park, commemorates the site of the Battle of Congella, during the siege of Port Natal. 

Last, but definitely not least a cenotaph in Farewell Square (next to the City Hall) commemorates those soldiers who died during World War I. Erected in 1926, the cenotaph stands an impressive 11 metres high and is built of granite with blue and yellow glazed ceramic tiles depicting two angels raising the soul of a dead soldier. The colour of the decoration is said to make the cenotaph stand out amongst other World War I memorials. 

The striking design was the result of a competition held in 1921, which was won by Cape Town architecture firm, Eagle, Pilington and McQueen, with the ceramics being made in England by Poole Pottery. 

Cover image courtesy of www.iol.co.za. Photographs of monuments courtesy of sanationalsociety.co.za. Image of Jacobs concentration camp courtesy of nzhistory.govt.nz

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