Remembering Christmas during the apartheid era

2014-12-24 09:20

The lights are on but the spirit of Christmas has left long ago

As a citizen in Durban,KwaZulu-Natal,South Africa you would remember this. What West Street was like during the apartheid era?

It's an era that we can't and we should not purge from history. It was the best of times for a minority and the worst of times for the rest as a deliberate and systemic apartheid system was regnant. So I wish to share this piece of history through the periscope of my eyes with you reading this.

After all, as the poet Umarrudin  Don Matera said "memory is the weapon".

Every year, since I was a toddler,I would accompany my family to "see the lights" and do window shopping in the then lily whites only West Street during Christmas season.Grey (Dr Yusuf Dadoo) Street was never lit up.Even now the drab fare is a joke.

We used to walk from Agnes Road,just off Warwick Avenue, to West Street,traverse across Alice Street,through Grey Street and on to West Street all lit up for Christmas. Not a indigenous African in sight during apartheid nights when they were confined to locations like Kwa Mashu,Claremont,and Umlazi," safely " (I say this tongue in cheek for that was the justification of the apartheid era authorities) out of sight!

Chatsworth, had been established and though it was hovering like the death sentence,the Group Areas Act had not affected us for a while....atleast until 1970!

Along the way, we used to pass landmark businesses such as Kapitans, Bhaghat's Cafe, Victory Lounge,the Juma Masjid, Pete's Lounge (located then at the confluence of Yusuf Dadoo and Monty Naicker (formerly Pine Street) and not to forget Nicol Square (remember it was referred to as "Red Square" during the 1950s and 1960s as it was the site that was used by, inter alia, the SACP and the ANC (before they were "banned") to stage legitimate protests action against apartheid and capitalism until it was shut down by the government of the day?) located at the confluence of Dr Yusuf Dadoo and Dr AB Xuma Street(formerly "Commercial Road").

All these landmarks , save for the iconic Juma Musjid, no longer exist though I must mention one building that still stands today, a lone sentinel  and witness to that era,namely Himalaya House now girdled by express ways. I mention this building because it was also house  and meeting place of apartheid era activists. It was about the tallest building at that time in Warwick Avenue.

Now with crime and insecurity that informs our democratic order , over the weekend,I travelled by car with my family in keeping with that tradition,did a quick (bliztz?)stop,took a few photos of the lights and drove on, like moths attracted to the bright lights and the sight and sounds, to the beach front bristling with security and the sounds of jingling tills.

"West Street" as it is still known  by locals hearkening for the past and adjoining "Smith Street"  now resembles  a ghost street,shutters down,with people scurrying along like insects to the bright glare of the beach front. Literally, the lights are on but with the barricades down, no one but only those sans secure transport,walk through and then too without stopping.

There's nothing celebratory to see...

My children have grown tired of this litany narrated traditionally every time this year so I share this bland fare with you.

I won't say "those were the days" but I recall that era and what we have today for posterity's record.

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