By Sinothi Thabethe
EThekwini Council approved the temporary relocation of the Lady in White statue from T-jetty next to Transnet Offices to the Durban (formerly Port Natal) Maritime Museum. This had been done after an approval by AMAFA aKwaZulu-Natal which is the provincial Heritage body responsible for all heritage resources in the KwaZulu-Natal Province.
The relocation of the statue has already increased its accessibility to the wider public because where it used to be before access was strictly controlled and very minimal to the wider public.
It was only when the harbour security became so restrictive that visitors were not able to view the Monument that its siting became an issue.
The statue is on loan to The Durban Maritime Museum for an indefinite period but for at least three to five years. If after that a suitable position on North Pier becomes available and there are suitable security arrangements in position, we can talk further about moving her to North Pier which is where the artist always wanted her to be.
Having More than 400 convoys, 45 000 ships and six million serving personnel in World War Two passed through South African Ports en route to and from Mediterranean and far Eastern war zones. Over half of them stopped at Durban. Of these folks that did and still walk this earth today, few will have forgotten its legendary ‘The Lady in White’ whose real name was Perla Siedle Gibson.
She died in 1971, shortly before her 83rd birthday. The year later a bronze plaque donated by men of the Royal Navy was erected to her memory on Durban’s North Pier on the spot where she used to sing.
After her death discussions then started with the harbour authorities and it was agreed that a monument of some sort be built in honour of this lady. A fund-raising appeal was launched in Britain and Barbara Siedle, Perla’s niece and artist in her own right, was commissioned to produce a full size bronze Monument of ‘The Lady in White’.
In March 1995 Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip made a State visit to Durban and the statue was placed alongside the HMS. “Britannia” for a private viewing by the Royal couple. Then on August 15th 1995 the Monument was officially unveiled by Perla’s two surviving children, Joy Liddiard and Barrie Gibson on T-jetty next to the Transnet Offices.