A valuable recording of the history of KwaZulu-Natal

2009-09-11 00:00

ANYONE interested in the heritage and history of this province cannot afford to ignore the annual publication of Natalia, the journal of the Natal Society. A look at the contents of the last issue gives an idea of the broad ranging approach: a survey of Indian family businesses, an article on British playwright Bernard Shaw’s visit to Natal in 1935 and another on Bhambatha’s family tree, plus book reviews, obituaries and a notes and queries section.

“Natalia is an extremely valuable contribution to the recording of the history of this province,” says Peter Croeser, chairperson of the Natal Society Foundation.

In many ways, Natalia embodies the impulse that saw the foundation of the Natal Society itself in 1851. “It was devoted to the literary and scientific pursuits of the community,” says Croeser.

“It promoted education by establishing a library and a museum, and its members also played a fundamental role in the founding of the Royal Agricultural Society and the Pietermaritzburg Philharmonic Society, as well as influencing the development of the university.”

The society’s museum, now the Natal Museum, was taken over by the Natal Government in 1901. The Natal Society Library, the country’s largest privately owned and operated public library system, was eventually transferred to the municipality in 2005.

Natalia began annual publication in 1971, but its inspiration can be found back in the 19th century when the Natal Society commissioned John Bird’s The Annals of Natal, slim volumes consisting of reports, letters, despatches and notices dealing with the early history of Natal — Boer, British and Zulu.

In 1893, a contemporary author described Bird’s Annals as “invaluabl­e to all who would study the early history of that colony and of Zululand”. The same judgment could be applied to Natalia.

Less than a century later, in 1969, came Natal Notes and News. This was the creation of Ronald Brown, university librarian on the local campus from 1962 to 1973.

“He was very interested in history,” recalls Shelagh Spencer, historian and member of the Natalia editorial committee. “He got the idea and put together a few cyclo-styled pages held together by a gem clip. He brought out four issues of Natal Notes and News.”

These were issued by the Natal Society and included articles on the environment, new books on Natal, fauna and flora, maps and information on various local clubs. “It was a real miscellany,” says Spencer.

Then the eminent historian Colin Webb developed the idea further and Natalia was born. The first issue published in 1971 paid homage to John Bird by reprinting one of his articles.

Natalia’s first editorial board consisted of Webb, Pam Reid, John Clark and Sue Judd, chief librarian. “The driving force behind it were Colin Webb and Sue Judd,” recalls Pat McKenzie, secretary of the Natal Society Foundation.

The current editor is T. B. “Jack” Frost. Although his editorship hasn’t been continuous, he is the longest serving editor, responsible for numbers 11 to 21 plus the two most recent editions, as well as co-editing several other editions over the years. Previous editors were Webb, Clark, John Sellers, Graham Dominy, John Deane and Moray Comrie.

“We publish anything to do with Natal and Zululand,” says Frost.

“The contributors include all sorts of people, often academics, and the articles range across history, geography and literature.”

“Natalia has a niche market and a low cover price that is a fraction of the actual cost. There are only production costs, no editorial costs, there are no fees for contributors and the editorial committee do their work gratis.”

Natalia has a small print run and is sold at various outlets and sent direct to subscribers who, as well as individuals, include university libraries in the United States and Britain.

Some of the early issues are no longer available. The 1978 commemorative issue on the Anglo-Zulu War quickly sold out as did the 1987 edition which included an entertaining and informative article on Pietermaritzburg in the decades between the two world wars.

After the transfer of the Natal Society Library to the municipality the society continued as the Natal Society Foundation. The Foundation pursues the original aims of the society by maintaining a large Victoriana and Africana research library at the Alan Paton Centre and Struggle Archives at the University of KwaZulu-Natal, publishing Natalia, and providing scholarships and grants to needy undergraduate and post-graduate students.

“Our future plans include providing access to Natalia via the internet to introduce it to a wider readership,” says Croeser.

• The subscription is R48 for the current issue number 38, obtainable from the Natal Society Foundation P. O. Box 11093, Dorpspruit, 3206. E-mail address mckenzie@3i.co.za

Bookworld at Cascades and the Imagine Bookshop at Hillcrest in the Heritage Centre will both have retrospective displays of back copies.

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