Why Durban?

Darryl Davids, the Head of English at UKZN, and one of the team members responsible for Durban’s successful bid to be named a UNESCO World City of Literature says that he has been asked “Why Durban”? His response, appropriately, is “Why not Durban?”. But we thought that we’d take the opportunity to answer the question – it doesn’t take a lot of digging to reveal the wealth of talent that Durban boasts when it comes to the world of literature!

With names like Alan Paton, Lewis Nkosi, Ronnie Govender, John van de Ruit, ZP Dala, Wilbur Smith, Credo Mutwa and Gcina Mhlophe, all having links with KZN, it’s easy to see why Durban would have been in the running. Then there are the literary festivals hosted by the city, namely Time of the Writer; Poetry Africa and the recently launched ARTiculate Africa; as well as the role that the UKZN Press plays in promoting local writers. Authors, Pamela Maseko, Jeff Opland and Wandile Kuse, who form part of UKZN Press were just the other day honoured with a South African Literary Award for their work on Iimbali Zamanyange: Historical Poems – DLP Yali Manisi and Isizwe Esinembali: Xhosa Histories and Poetry (1873–1888) – Wellington Gqoba.

Another recent release, and a wonderful advertisement for KZN, is A Literary Guide to KwaZulu-Natal by Lindy Stiebel and Niall McNulty (coincidentally Niall was one of the founders of Ulwazi). The book, which was launched last month, charts a route through the province by following in the footsteps of fictional characters, visiting settings from stories and tracking down places linked to writers, whether in the form of a birthplace, home or burial site.

Semi-permanent library structures in Durban's CBD
Semi-permanent library structures in Durban’s CBD

The city also runs one of the most inspiring library programmes in South Africa. The New Durban Central City (NDCC) Library Research Hub constitutes an investment of approximately R500m by government, and is one of the means by which the municipality hopes to regenerate the inner city. While waiting for completion of the project, semi-permanent structures, which offer visitors free WiFi, access to current newspapers and a book exchange, have been erected in Durban’s CBD. The One City, One Book project, is another way in which Durban Libraries try to encourage reading and supports writers. As part of the project a local author’s book becomes ‘the book of the year’. This year The Pavement Bookworm by Philani Dladla was chosen.

So there you have it, just some of the answers to the question, “Why Durban?”. With all of the plans that are being discussed to leverage Durban’s new title of UNESCO World City of Literature we’re sure pretty soon no one will be asking that question!


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