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A drive from Durban’s beaches towards the once bustling “Indian quarter” will lead to a confluence of three streets - Monty Naicker, Alfred Bitini Xuma and Yusuf Dadoo. It is appropriate that they meet at point that was once the “Red Square” (and is today the site of the Nicol Square Parkade). This always congested traffic intersection was the venue for many an anti-apartheid rally during the tempestuous decade of the 1950’s that first brought the likes of Nelson Mandela, Albert Luthuli, Yusuf Dadoo and Helen Joseph fully into the pages of history. Most significantly, Red Square was the gathering point for the historic 1952 Defiance Campaign, the first organised joint Indo-African opposition to apartheid.
The threesome of Dr Xuma, leader of the African National Congress, Dr Yusuf Dadoo, president of the Transvaal Indian Congress, and Dr Monty Naicker, president of the Natal Indian Congress, were the pioneers of the very first attempt in the city to unite African and Indian struggles against racial oppression. Signed in 1947 it is recorded in the history books as the ‘Doctors Pact’. It is appropriate that the main concourse of the Indian quarter, once Grey Street, is named after Dadoo, a dynamic orator who spent much of his life in exile and is buried near Karl Marx at the Highgate Cemetery in London.
Indians began arriving in Natal from 1860 and the “Indian Quarter” had already taken shape by the 1890s as the authorities used the “sanitation syndrome” to segregate Indians from white boroughs. Indians were forced to settle in three zones around Durban: a business and commercial area bounded by Pine Street (now Monty Naicker), Albert Street, the railway line and the West Street cemetery; an area around Garnet road and bordering Umgeni Road; and the area between Alice Street and the Greyville race course [Warwick triangle].
We grew up in the Indian quarter during the 1960s and 1970s, Vahed in Pine Street and Desai in Prince Edward Street. Our histories are folded into the labyrinth of this area. Writing these words is to write our boyhoods. It was a time of street football (illegal of course), the electric atmosphere on Saturday nights as thousands thronged Victoria Street, dressed to the nines, to watch English and Hindi movies at Shah Jehan, Avalon and Naaz cinemas, the adolescent male street corner society with its petty chauvinisms and repressed sexualities, and the gangsters whom we both feared and respected.
We were witness too to the emptying out of the quarter. The movie houses closing, neighbours across generations disappearing into the designated Group Areas on the outskirts of the city, the Quarter locking-down every night as shop owners pull down their steel shutters. It is a sign of the times that even the mosques have to shut shop. Those who survived the Group Areas were relocated when the Western Freeway was built in the 1970s. It comes into the city at the very point where “Red Square” stands. In the name of “development” even the dead were not spared. Part of the cemetery was lost and several hundred graves were dug up, much to the chagrin of locals. All this took place behind our backs as we watched ‘Enter the Dragon’ at the Raj Cinema, one more time.
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Last Updated (Friday, 10 December 2010 22:29)