Fascinating history of Chatsworth in transition

2013-11-11 00:00

CHATSWORTH, thought to be the biggest township of Indians outside of India, is the subject of a new book, Chatsworth: The Making of a South African Township.

Edited by Ashwin Desai and Goolam Vahed, it will be launched on Saturday. “The original idea for the project came from Ashwin, who had spent a lot of time there in the late 1990s and early 2000s in various struggles,” says Vahed, professor of history at the University of KwaZulu-Natal. “We wanted to understand how a township born at the height of apartheid has changed and continues to change in the apartheid and post-apartheid periods. Chatsworth is a laboratory to understand that change.”

Desai, professor of sociology at the University of Johannesburg, says that although Chatsworth was an apartheid creation, it became an iconic township. “In the book we look at its beginnings and how people adjusted to first being there,” he says. “They had been moved so many times via the indentured labour system, then apartheid, and then they ended up here. They wouldn’t have known their neighbours. We look at how they adjusted to that reality.”

The book consists of 40 chapters, each with a different subject and written by a range of authors, some academics, some not. “The book is a mix between the academic and the popular,” says Vahed. “The various writers have different styles and ways of writing and understanding, which is fascinating,”

The book’s content explores the many sides of Chatsworth’s history, often refracted via personal experience, and covering such aspects as sport, religion, cultural activities, gangs and politics. There is also a contemporary photo essay by Jenny Gordon. “This really captures a Chatsworth in transition,” says Desai. “While we set out to capture the everyday life of Chatsworth the book also captures the changes.

“Today we see many Africans moving into the area while the Indian middle classes are moving away to Johannesburg, Cape Town or other parts of Durban.”

Vahed says that while the majority of Chatsworth’s residents are still “Indian” as defined by the apartheid government, the racial make-up is changing. “Chatsworth, as the chapters in this book show, has never stood still and it is coming to reflect the reality of post-apartheid South Africa.”

Chatsworth has produced many of today’s prominent citizens, says Vahed. “Such as Sam Pillay who is involved in the anti-drugs forum, Clive Pillay, who is doing sterling work with the youth, Maggie Govender and Brandon Pillay in politics, Kumi Naidoo who is with Greenpeace, Orlean Naidoo, and many others.

“But there are many others that the public may not know of — such as national cricketers Dinesha Devnarain and Trisha Chetty, Sugar Singh, the multi-talented sporting Govender and Soobramoney brothers, educationists Maya Singh and Lazarus Soobramoney, or Papwa Segolum’s links to Chatsworth.”

• Chatsworth: The Making of a South African Township edited by Ashwin Desai and Goolam Vahed is published by the University of KwaZulu-Natal Press. The launch will be held on Saturday, November 16, 2.15–5.15 pm, at the Savera Hotel, 17 Oak Avenue, Kharwastan, Chatsworth. Transport has been arranged from Ike’s Books (48a Florida Road) to the Savera Hotel, departing at 1.45 pm. If you require transport please confirm with Jo at Ike’s on 031 303 9214 or e-mail: ikesbooks­@iafrica.com by Thursday, November 14.

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