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South Coast Writers Trail PDF Print E-mail
Wednesday, 06 July 2011 12:42

Lily Moya/Mabel Palmer/Sibusisiwe Makhanya

In 1949, Lily Moya, a young African scholar, started a correspondence with Mabel Palmer, a well-known educator and activist. This correspondence was later published as Not Either an Experimental Doll (1987), edited by Shula Marks. Moya began by requesting help with her education – ‘Mine is a very sad case’ – to which Palmer agreed, funding her schooling at Adams College. The letters show that Lily was also hoping for a mentor and a friend, roles Dr. Palmer was unwilling to fill. The letters between the two grew increasingly agitated as Lily accused Dr. Palmer of neglecting her and Dr. Palmer withdrew her assistance, calling in social worker Sibusisiwe (Violet) Makhanya from Umbumbulu to intervene.

Prithiraj ‘Pritz’ Dullay (1946 - ) was born in Port Shepstone. Dullay’s early experiences with racial discrimination and apartheid resulted in him choosing an uncompromising path of confrontation with the government. His early exposure to the writings of Gandhi mapped out the paths he would follow in life. He became a student leader at Springfield College and his exposure to leaders such as Steve Biko, Strini Moodley and Dr Rick Turner shaped his political consciousness. He was later granted political exile in Denmark in 1978, remaining there for fourteen years. He returned to South Africa with his family in 1992, joining the Durban University of Technology. Dullay’s book Salt Water Runs in My Veins was launched in 2010.

Daphne Rooke (1914 - 2009) was born in the Transvaal, of an English father and Afrikaans mother who was a writer and ‘marvelous storyteller’. Rooke grew up in Durban where she attended Durban Girls' High School. She later moved to Zululand, where A Grove of Fever Trees was set. During the 1930s, she worked as a journalist, marrying an Australian, Irvin Rooke, and moving to Australia. There she wrote Mittee (1951), her international bestseller. A Grove of Fever Trees appeared in 1951, followed by a series of striking novels on turbulent South African themes. Ratoons, set in the South Coast sugarcane fields, was reissued in 1990 by Chameleon Press. In 1997 Rooke received a honorary doctorate from the University of KwaZulu-Natal. She died in England.

Mazisi Kunene (1930 - 2006) was an epic poet who lived in Durban. He studied at the University of Natal, and won the Bantu Literary Competition Award in 1956. He left South Africa in 1959, taught in Lesotho, and later became Professor of African Literature and Language at the University of California in Los Angeles. For Zulu Poems (1970) Kunene collected and translated into English his early poems which reflect his social and cultural inheritance. Emperor Shaka the Great (1979), inspired by the rise of the Zulu empire, was followed by Anthem of the Decades (1981), a Zulu epic dedicated to the women of Africa. His reputation was further enhanced by the collection The Ancestors and the Sacred Mountain (1982).

Michael Cawood Green (1954 - ) was born in Pinetown, KwaZulu-Natal. He studied for his Masters degree at Stanford, California, and at the University of York for his doctorate. In South Africa, his academic career brought him to the University of Natal in Durban. In 1997 Penguin published his historical fiction, Sinking: A Verse Novella. In 1999, Green spent a year in London as a Research Fellow at the School of Oriental and African Studies. Here he began a novel based on the Trappist monks who came to South Africa in 1878 and founded Mariannhill Monastery, together with other mission stations. This novel, For the Sake of Silence (2008), won the Olive Schreiner Prize.

Victor Frank Stiebel (1907-1976) was born in Durban, attending Michaelhouse school in the Midlands. He moved to Britain in 1924 to study at Cambridge and opened his own fashion house in 1932, where he had great success, designing for, amongst others, Princess Margaret. His autobiography captures his time in Natal from the age of four to seventeen, including memorable summer holidays at Isipingo in the early 1900s.

Es'kia Mphahlele (1919 - 2008) was a writer and academic. He was born in Marabastad, Pretoria, but educated at Adams College. He was fiction editor of Drum magazine in the mid-1950s but left South Africa for Nigeria in 1957, spending the next 20 years in exile. Author of the memoir Down Second Avenue (1959), Mphahlele was awarded the Order of the Southern Cross for services to literature in 1998 by President Nelson Mandela.

Voorslag (Roy Campbell, William Plomer and Laurens van der Post), meaning ‘whiplash’, was a literary journal published in Durban (but largely written in Sezela) in 1926 and 1927. It was founded and edited by Roy Campbell and William Plomer, with Laurens van der Post as the Afrikaans editor. The journal’s aim was, in Plomer’s words, ‘to sting with satire the mental hindquarters, so to speak, of the bovine citizenry of the Union [of South Africa]’.


The South Coast of KwaZulu-Natal has long been associated with blue skies and beach holidays. With its kilometers of sandy beaches and small towns hugging the coastline, the South Coast’s fortunes have largely been linked to tourism and agriculture. Beach resorts were founded during South Africa’s colonial period, named after famous holiday destinations ‘back home’. In the 1950s, families from Durban spent holidays at Isipingo which Victor Stiebel describes in his autobiography South African Childhood (1968). Later on, the coast attracted tourists from further inland, with the towns of Margate and Amanzimtoti becoming popular holiday destinations. Today the South Coast sees a steady stream of national and international tourists, as well as backpackers, eco-tourists and adventure sport junkies.

Both sugarcane and banana plantations abound – featured in Daphne Rooke’s Ratoons (1953) - interspersed with thick coastal forest, but it is the marine environment that attracts most visitors. Some come for the annual ‘sardine run’ during which millions of sardines migrate from their spawning grounds at the tip of Africa toward KwaZulu-Natal. The huge sardine shoals, preyed upon by game fish, sharks, dolphins and seabirds, can stretch for kilometres.

However, there are other aspects to the region. The South Coast has a rich educational heritage, with historic cultural and literary links to the Indian, Zulu and White communities alike. Adam’s College, established in 1836 and located just north of Amanzimtoti on the R603, is an educational training college for young Africans still in operation today. Many of South Africa’s cultural and political luminaries have passed through its doors. The hilly inland regions of the South Coast are largely under the authority of traditional tribal leadership, with this region forming the historic southern boundary of Shaka’s Zulu empire. Mazisi Kunene, Africa’s former poet laureate, who spent part of his childhood in Amahlongwa near Scottburgh, wrote the epic poem Emperor Shaka the Great in memory of this great leader, praising him:

Nodumehlezi, son of Menzi, You cannot be vanquished like water. You, the battle-axe that towered above others. Shaka! I fear to call him by his name, Because he is the ruler adorned with many emblems!

The South Coast is a sugarcane farming area. Indentured Indian labourers, engaged to work the sugarcane plantations in Natal, were first brought to this province by the British in 1860. Many worked on the South Coast plantations and, later, some started their own farms and market gardens. Prithiraj ‘Pritz’ Dullay, in his autobiography Salt Water in My Veins (2010), writes ‘My grandfather and his equally tough and resourceful wife spent twenty two years in the same plantation…The salary for a grown man was ten shillings a month, paid in a single gold coin. The women were paid considerably less, although they worked equally hard’.

Places to visit

Amanzimtoti (‘sweet waters’ in Zulu) is a coastal town just south of Durban. According to local legend, when the Zulu king Shaka led his army down the south coast on a raid against the Pondos in 1828, he rested on the banks of a river. When drinking the water, he exclaimed ‘Kanti amanzi mtoti’ (isiZulu: ‘So, the water is sweet’). Amanzimtoti made international news when, on 23 December 1985 during the apartheid era, Andrew Zondo detonated a bomb in a rubbish bin at the Sanlam shopping centre – this event was documented by Fatima Meer in her book, The Trial of Andrew Zondo (1987).

Adams College Dr Newton Adams, under the auspices of the American Board of Missions, in 1836 established a school near Amanzimtoti. The school has a proud history, and alumni include the Rev. John Dube, the first President of the ANC, Dr ZK Matthews, Inkosi Albert Luthuli, Anthony Lembede, Judge Pius Langa, Prince Mangosuthu Buthelezi and many others. Dr ZK Matthews became the first black head of the school in 1925, Inkosi Albert Luthuli taught isiZulu and music at the school and Govan Mbeki was also a teacher there. Es’kia Mphahlele recalls ‘the massive buildings of stone blocks, the violent growth of vegetation around, and dormitories that could easily have accommodated a fair-sized gymnastic club. The floors were always dusty and the inside of these miniature halls smelled strongly of semi-dry grass, which was used for stuffing mattresses’.

Sugarcane fields The sugarcane farms along the South Coast are an important part of KwaZulu-Natal's agricultural industry. Rooke describes the ‘silken cover’ of the green cane, and how ‘When the year is out and the cane has been harvested the hillsides are brown beneath their burden of trash; and you wait again for the rains. Beneath the soil there takes place a wonder of regrowth as the ratoons spring from the cane-roots to make the field green once more’.

Isipingo Beach is a seaside town built at the mouth of the Siphingo River. Victor Stiebel writes of the influence the landscape had on him: ‘I know little of the other oceans of the world, but it is not possible that the intensity of the Indian Ocean’s colours, blues ranging from the deep peacock through sapphire and turquoise to pale aquamarine, and the greens, emerald, malachite and jade, could be matched elsewhere... With other flashes from my South African past they were to form the basis of a life-long love affair with colour’.

Sezela Peter Alexander’s biography of Roy Campbell describes the scene at Sezela, a small seaside town on the South Coast: ‘Lewis Reynolds [...] invited the Campbells to occupy a seaside bungalow at Sezela, on one of his estates, Umdoni Park. Set in thick bush by edge of the sea, it was a simple rectangular structure of corrugated iron lined inside with wood for protection against the fierce sun…With characteristic generosity, Campbell urged Plomer to move into the bungalow at Sezela and become a joint editor of Voorslag: “We ... can put up for good if you can only get away. I think I'll be earning from 20 to 30 a month for editing Voorslag: so we'll live like millionaires, man!”’ Sadly, this dream was shortlived. Voorslag lasted for 11 issues; Campbell resigned as editor after the third.

Port Shepstone is situated on the mouth of the largest river on the South Coast, the Umzimkulu River,. Dullay describes the terrible floods of 1959 in which, among others, ‘My naana [maternal grandfather], an aging man with almost transparent skin and green eyes was also swept away’. Port Shepstone was founded in 1867 and named after Sir Theophilus Shepstone. A harbour was built in 1882 and the harbour lighthouse still stands at the mouth of the Umzimkulu River. Spiller’s Wharf, situated on the banks of the Umzimkulu River was originally a power station, later a fish factory and is now a collection of restaurants and shops, with views up and down the river.

Marisstella and St Michael’s Mission Linked to the Trappist Monastery at Mariannhill, the Marisstella mission is on the St Faith’s road, leading out of Port Shepstone. Further inland, on the R612 road which links Umzinto and Ixopo, lies St Michaels Mission which features in Green’s book For the Sake of Silence. It is here that the exorcism of Klara Cele, a pupil, takes place: ‘Her neck would become as long as a swan’s neck, her eyes glowing like fire. She growled and gnashed, grunted, barked, made a low but loud continuous snarling, rolling noise, bellowing like a wild beast in the wilderness. Often all the noises were heard together, a diabolical concert of hell’.

Oribi Gorge is situated along the Umzimkulu river. In 1950 it was proclaimed a protected state forest. At the base of the gorge are rocks over 1000 million years old while the cliffs themselves are formed from sandstone deposited about 365 million years ago.

Further Reading

  • Dullay, Prithiraj. 2010. Salt Water Runs in My Veins. Durban: Madiba Publishers
  • Green, Michael Cawood. 2008. For The Sake of Silence. Roggebaai: Umuzi
  • Kunene, Mazisi. 1979. Emperor Shaka The Great. London: Heinemann
  • Marks, Shula (ed.) 1987. Not Either an Experimental Doll: The Separate Worlds of Three South African Women. Pietermaritzburg: University of Natal Press; Durban: Killie Campbell Africana Library.
  • Mphahlele, Ezekiel. 1959. Down Second Avenue. London: Faber & Faber
  • Rooke, Daphne. Ratoons (1953) 1990. Plumstead: Chameleon Press.
  • Stiebel, Victor. 1968. South African Childhood. London: Andre Deutsch
  • Voorslag 1-3 (1926) 1985. With Introduction and Notes by Colin Gardner and Michael Chapman. Pietermaritzburg: University of Natal Press; Durban: Killie Campbell Africana Library.


  • Steve Kotze for advice on the Trappist missions
  • Glenda Robson for digitization services
  • Niall McNulty for the landscape photographs
  • Mazisi Kunene image courtesy Mazisi Kunene Foundation
  • National Arts Council for the funding to produce this trail