|North Coast Writers Trail|
Benedict Wallet Vilakazi (1906-1947) was born at Groutville Mission Station. He was a Zulu scholar and teacher. In the early 1930s, Vilakazi began to publish his poetry in various journals, including ILanga lase Natal, UmAfrika and The Bantu World. Three of his novels appeared in the 1930s: Nje nempela (Really and Truly), Noma nini (Forever and Ever) and uDingiswayo ka Jobe (Dingiswayo, Son of Jobe). With Professor Doke, he compiled a Zulu-English Dictionary.
Now I do believe that he has died,
Because when the sun lights up the earth
I see animals grazing in the morning,
Whisking their hairy tails,
Which are white like the cows at umHlali,
Extract from ‘Now Do I Believe That He Has Died’
Dianne Stewart is a prolific author who writes full time from her home on the North Coast, near KwaDukuza. Throughout her career, Stewart has worked extensively in the field of the oral tradition. This inspired many of her children’s books including The Dove and The Gift of the Sun which has been translated into many languages. Her study of African Languages inspired her edited collection of African proverbs called Wisdom from Africa. For her Masters degree in South African literature she collected the songs of rural Zulu women from North Coast sugar-cane farms. Some of these powerful examples of socio-political oral poetry appeared in Women Writing Africa: Southern Region.
Aziz Hassim (1935 - ) spent his formative years fraternising on the streets of the Casbah. In an interview he states that “the area had a kind of romance and bittersweet lifestyle during the fifties and sixties, which lives on only in the minds of those that inhabited it at the time”. Hassim's debut novel, The Lotus People, won the 2001 Sanlam Literary Award and spans the events of this era. His second novel, Revenge of Kali, is centred on the history of indentured labourers.
Chief Albert John Luthuli (1898 – 1967), also known by his Zulu name Mvumbi, was the first African to be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1960 for his role in the non-violent struggle against apartheid. Trained as a teacher, Luthuli held posts around the country before accepting the position of chief in Groutville in 1933. In 1944 Luthuli joined the African National Congress (ANC) and was instrumental in organising nonviolent campaigns to defy discriminatory laws. His political stance resulted in repeated bannings by the apartheid government, restricting him to the area around his home in Groutville. In 1962 he published an autobiography titled Let My People Go. In July 1967, he died in a train accident near his home. A close friend of Luthuli’s who was born in Mapumulo, M.B Yengwa of the ANCYL, wrote praise poems about Luthuli and izibongo on his surname.
Mafika Pascal Gwala (1946 - ) is a poet and editor, writing in English and isiZulu. Gwala spent his early years in Verulam, emerging as a significant writer in the 60s and 70s as part of the black South African Student Organisation.
I’m the naked boy
running down a muddy road,
the rain pouring bleatingly
in Verulam’s Mission Station
Through expressing the political and social hardships of those victimised by apartheid, he was closely associated with the Soweto Poets. His poetry collections include Jol’iinkomo (1977) and No More Lullabies (1982).
Gustav Preller started writing in his retirement after a career which included advertising and banking. When not writing, he surfs, rides his mountain bike, fishes, and plays chess. Preller lives at Blythedale on the North Coast. His debut novel, Icarus over Hong Kong, was published in 2009 by Pegasus. The Twelfth Delegate followed in 2011.
Rosamund Kendal (1978 -) was born in Cape Town, and studied medicine at UCT. Her two novels, Karma Suture (2007) and The Angina Monologues (2009) are medical dramas, with the second being set in a rural Zululand hospital: The redness of the clay soil, the lime-green of the sugar cane, the impossible blue of the sea, the lushness and life everywhere still entranced her. Kendal practices as a GP in Umhlanga Rocks and writes in her spare time.
Bhoowan Prakash (BP) Singh (1963- ) was born in Tongaat. The son of a former Grey Street taxi operator and jeweler, he secured a bursary to study teaching at Springfield College, going on to have a successful career in education. Singh’s first novel, the semi-autobiographical When the Chalk Is Down: An Odyssey, was published in 2010. Singh currently lives in Verulam.
Two themes dominate the cultural history of the North Coast: the legendary king Shaka Zulu, and the history of sugar production and indentured labourers.
Shaka is widely credited with uniting many of the tribes of Southern Africa into the Zulu Kingdom. He has been called a military genius for his reforms and innovations, and condemned for the brutality of his reign. Luthuli writes in Let My People Go: in a brief twelve year reign, Shaka, undoubtedly the greatest of the Zulu kings, welded a number of bickering clans into a strong united nation. Research continues into the character and life of Shaka, whose reign still greatly influences South African culture and literature. Rider Haggard traced the rise and fall of Shaka in his novels, while Dube and Vilakazi both authored books on him. The North Coast area, where Shaka ruled and is buried, is known as iLembe, one of his praise names.
Edmond Morewood pioneered the South African sugar industry in 1851, growing the first commercial cane at Compensation, south of Umhlali, and refining the sugar at his rudimentary mill. Colonial farmers further developed the industry, importing indentured labourers from India to work on their North Coast farms from 1860 to the early 1900s often under difficult living and working conditions. Importation of Indian labourers was abandoned in 1911. Most did not return to India after their contracts expired, exchanging their return trip for currency or property. Aziz Hassim’s Revenge of Kali tells a harsh tale of labourers’ conditions:You’ll hear the panting too, from the spirits of those who are still running, more than a century later, barely a step ahead of their pursuers - the hated sirdars and their vicious dogs. Speaking of Groutville’s sugar industry, Luthuli wrote; Cane has the merit of being a cash crop, and this to some extent lessens the great evils of migrant labour. Tholsi Mudly, a retired teacher from Tongaat, also explores the history of indentured labourers in her book A Tribute to our Forefathers.
Today the North Coast is popular with tourists attracted by the beaches, the natural beauty and developed infrastructure. The coast is a surfer’s paradise as Preller describes: Coming from way beyond the shark nets a swell would suddenly sense shallower water ahead. It would refuse to slow down, gathering pace instead, rear up like an angry cobra, and strike down with force… Birding is a rewarding pursuit up and down the Coast. Dianne Stewart’s The Guineafowl’s Spots collects folktales and proverbs of African birds, including Impangel’ enhle ngekhal’ igijima or The wise guineafowl is the one that cries when it runs away.
Places to Visit
Founded in1850 by British settlers, the town was named after the Earl of Verulam. Situated in a sugar growing district, Verulam is today inhabited mainly by people of Indian descent. The Sri Gopalall Hindu Temple was opened in 1913 by Mahatma Gandhi. Verulam is the birthplace of Gwala, and home to BP Singh who recalls: I was no stranger to the extended family concept…My college years saw me rotating between the residences of my sisters, Gita and Gyan, both of whom lived in Mountview in Verulam.
Established in 1964, Ballito is today a thriving seaside community with many restaurants, hotels and bookshops. The iLembe Municipality’s tourist information centre is situated here. The Ballito Writers Guild meets monthly at the library and the town is home to writer Rosamund Kendal.
Morewood acquired a farm at Compensation in 1848 and by 1851 was producing sugar from a small mill, a replica of which is in the Morewood Memorial Gardens, a heritage site maintained by SASA.
Ten kilometres south of KwaDukuza is Groutville, a peri-urban settlement. Groutville was formerly a mission reserve administered by a Chief elected by the Christian community. Luthuli was elected to this position: Groutville’s domestic affairs were not going very well, and the people desired a change of chief. A body of tribal elders approached me with a request that they be allowed to ask the tribe to consider my replacing the ruling chief. A Museum is now at the site of Luthuli’s house, which is also home to a poetry club, uHuru Poetry in Motion. A local primary school is named after Vilakazi.
Stanger is famous for being the place of Shaka's assassination. In 1873, European settlers built a new town on the site, and named it after William Stanger, the Surveyor-General of Natal. Now renamed KwaDukuza, it is home to the King Shaka Visitor Centre, built at the site of his grave. The mahogany tree, under which Shaka held meetings, still stands in the grounds. The KwaDukuza Museum houses a great variety of historical items and information on King Shaka, the sugar industry and local history. A statue of Luthuli stands in front of the municipal chambers.
Zinkwazi, named after the fish eagle, is a unique coastal ecosystem of beaches, lagoon and indigenous forests with spectacular bird life which can be appreciated from spots such as the Zinkwazi Lagoon Lodge. This is run by the son of HGO Achtzein, author of the guide book Zinkwazi Beach and Surrounding Area.
Compiled by Niall McNulty and Lindy Stiebel
KZN Literary Tourism
Tel: 031 2602308
Tel: 031 5087000
Tel: 032 9461256
Exclusive Books Ballito
Tel: 032 5860042
Tel: 032 5596822/3
King Shaka Visitor Centre
Tel: 032 5527210
Tel: 032 437 5075
Zinkwazi Lagoon Lodge
Tel: 032 4853344
Dube, John Langalibalele. 2008 (1930). Jeqe, the Body-servant of King Shaka. Johannesburg: Penguin.
Gwala, Mafika. 1977. Jol’‘iinkomo. Johannesburg: Donker.
Hassim, Aziz. 2009. Revenge of Kali. Johannesburg: STE Publishers.
Kendal, Rosamund. 2010. The Angina Monologues. Johannesburg: Jacana.
Luthuli, Albert. 2006 (1962). Let My People Go. Cape Town: Tafelberg Publishers.
Platter, Erica; Friedman, Clinton and Gwyn Platter. 2010. East Coast Tables. Durban: East Coast Radio.
Preller, Gustav. 2009. Icarus over Hong Kong. Cambridge: Pegasus Publishers.
Singh, BP. 2010. When The Chalk is Down: An Odyssey. Verulam: KraftMedia Publishers.
Stewart, Dianne. 2007. The Guineafowl’s Spots and other African bird tales. Cape Town: Struik.
Vilakazi, Benedict Wallet. 1939. uDingiswayo kaJobe. London: Sheldon Press.