Umgababa Triumphs Against The Odds

The prime seaside location of Umgababa sets it oddly apart from other Durban townships. Given the country’s apartheid past, you would have expected that its position, some 35km south of Durban, would have seen it develop as a ‘whites only’ suburb like Amanzimtoti or Winkelspruit, its immediate neighbours. But the seaside village wasn’t an accidental blunder on the part of apartheid town planners. It was deliberately set aside as a beach for Black South Africans when the notorious ‘sleg blankes’ rule still applied to most public amenities.

The name “Umgababa” is a mispronunciation of “Umuzikababa” meaning “my father’s house”. And like many other eThekwini townships, including Umlazi, Lamontville and Folweni, Umgababa has its tales of bloody political conflict. The violence transformed it, quite literally, from a popular holiday spot to a township on fire. At the height of its popularity, hundreds of thousands of people from all over KwaZulu-Natal and South Africa flocked to the resort each year. But it lost most of its allure when it was torched in the 1980s. Now, local residents are bent on restoring the township’s former glory. “On the first day of each new year we have the Umgababa Festival at the holiday resort site. It has grown over the years and the aim is to lure people back to Umgababa,” said local Councillor Stanley Xulu.

Even the younger generation of the area, some too young to even remember the village’s heyday, speak proudly of Umgababa. Thokozani Zulu, better known as Tizozo in the kwaito circles where he plies his trade, is one of them. Born and bred in Umgababa’s Area-7, Zulu of the group Tizozo en Professor fame, regards himself as an ambassador for the rejuvenation of Umgababa. “You might have even heard that in one of my songs I sing about the good times to be had at Umgababa. We want people to come to this place,” he said. The young muso has a vision of vast numbers of people arriving in busloads to see the township. “We are nearing 2010. Nothing stops tourists from visiting this area. We must ensure that the holiday resort is refurbished so that we can provide affordable accommodation,” he said.

The Umgababa train station bordering the township and the seaside is an encouraging sign that this work has already begun. Also destroyed in the violence, it has now been revamped and extended to include a taxi rank. “A lot of changes are occurring in this area. We have also built decent homes in place of those destroyed in the early 1990s. The landscape is truly transforming for the better,” said Xulu. But the people of the township that dominated the amnesty hearings at the Truth and Reconciliation Commission have not forgotten those who fell in the political violence. A wall of remembrance paying homage to them stands at the entrance of the township. A budding production company based in the area produced a documentary called “Umgababa from the Ashes” which focussed on the unrest. It was aired on SABC 1 last year.

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