Durban in a bid to secure its own Unesco heritage site

2014-02-14 09:04
Durban - Emmanuel Cathedral, the Gandhi Library and the Central Mosque situated at the west end of Durban’s city centre could become part of a “spiritual precinct” with Unesco heritage site status.

“Here we have Muslims, Hindus and Christians co-existing peacefully,” says Thami Nxasana, who advises the National Heritage Council (NHC) on matters of heritage in general and specifically conglomerates of sites “such as an area like this which demonstrates the spiritual heritage of Durban”.

Nxasana is currently assisting the Denis Hurley Centre to link to the Liberation Heritage Route (LHR) envisaged for central Durban.

The centre, under construction next to the Emmanuel Cathedral, will be a community facility housing a clinic as well as providing training for the homeless, unemployed and refugees.

Within easy walking distance of the cathedral are the Central Mosque, the Gandhi Library, the Surat Hindu Building, the Islamic Propagation Centre International, Victoria Street Market and Warwick Junction Market, as well as the West Street and Brook Street cemeteries, where there are many historic graves, including artist-explorer Thomas Baines and anti-apartheid activist Rick Turner, who was assassinated in 1978.

“Along with the Denis Hurley Centre these could all be major drawcards for foreign and local tourists as well as for economic development where it is very much needed,” says co-ordinator of the Denis Hurley Project, Paddy Kearney. Archbishop Denis Hurley, a champion of social justice who died 10 years ago this week, was the Catholic archbishop of Durban from 1946 to 1992 and subsequently the parish priest at Emmanuel Cathedral.

The plan to incorporate the cathedral and the centre into the province’s LHR came about in 2011 when Kearney made a presentation at the KwaZulu-Natal provincial LHR summit in Durban. The LHR is an initiative of the NHC and will form a network of heritage sites telling the story of South Africa’s liberation struggle.

The route will be proposed for listing as a World Heritage Property by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (Unesco) World Heritage Committee. The NHC subsequently approved the cathedral site as a candidate for the LHR and it then received the backing of then provincial premier Zweli Mkhize while the city council was unanimous in its support. Now the time has come for action, says Kearney.

“The centre cost R31m and we have raised R26m, it’s time the city came to the party. We have an impact on the community and the city, and we now need their support. This whole area needs upgrading.” According to Nxasana, Durban is trailing other cities when it comes to promoting its heritage.  

“The city needs to think strategically about positioning the metro in terms of its heritage,” he says.  “Cape Town has Robben Island; Johannesburg has Constitution Hill, the Newtown Precinct … and in Soweto, Regina Mundi has become “the cathedral of Gauteng”.

“This area should be declared an urban precinct,” he says, adding, “It should be a managed space. There should be no crime and grime, no solid waste — which is bad here at the moment.

“Such a precinct would also promote moral and intellectual enlightenment, which should be an important element of our democracy after 20 years.” 
Read more on:    durban  |  travel  |  travel south africa
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