History of Durban

Published on 22nd May 2007

Durban is the second most populous city in South Africa and the largest city in KwaZulu-Natal, a culturally diverse region, in South Africa. It is the busiest port in Africa. With a population of approximately 3.2 million, the city is also a major centre of tourism due to the city's warm subtropical climate and beaches. Black Africans form the highest percentage of the population, followed by Asians or Indians, Whites and then Coloreds.

According to carbon dating of rock art found in caves in the Drakensberg, the first known inhabitants of the Durban area arrived from the north around 100,000 BC. They were living in the central plains of KwaZulu-Natal until the expansion of Bantu people from the north sometime during the last millennium.

On the Christmas of 1497, Portuguese explorer Vasco da Gama landed in KwaZulu-Natal coast while searching for a route from Europe to India and thus named the area "Natal", or Christmas in Portuguese.

In 1824, a party of 25 men under British Lieutenant F. G. Farewell arrived from the Cape Colony and established a settlement on the northern shore of the Bay of Natal. Farewell came along with Henry Fynn, an adventurer who was able to befriend the Zulu King Shaka by helping him to recover from a stab wound he suffered in a battle. As a token of gratitude, Shaka granted Fynn a "25-mile strip of coast a hundred miles in depth." During a meeting of 35 white residents in Fynn's territory on June 23, 1835, a capital town was decided to be built and name "d'Urban" after Sir Benjamin d'Urban, then governor of the Cape Colony.

In 1838, Voortrekkers established the Republic of Natalia north of Durban, and established a capital at Pietermaritzburg. Fierce conflict with the Zulu population led to the evacuation of Durban, and eventually the Afrikaners accepted British annexation in 1844 under military pressure leading to a British governor being appointed to the region.  The British established a sugar cane industry in the 1860s, and farm owners had a difficult time attracting Zulu laborers to work on their plantations.

In 1948, the National Party was elected on a platform of racial segregation laws, which later came to be collectively known as apartheid. As a consequence of the Group Areas Act, which classified all areas of the country and city according to race, formerly multi-racial suburbs were either purged of unlawful residents or destroyed. Many Zulu men migrated to Johannesburg to work in gold and diamond mines, and a nominally-independent homeland for Zulus, KwaZulu, was established in 1977 around Zululand. This created tension between the Zulu-dominated Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP) and the anti-apartheid party and supposedly Xhosa-dominated African National Congress (ANC). Political violence grew exponentially in the early 1990s during the downfall of the apartheid system. Fortunately, the successful multi-racial elections in 1994 eased tensions dramatically.

Today, Durban is one of the busiest container port in Africa. The Durban Metropolitan Area (DMA) has a large and diversified economy with strong manufacturing, tourism, transportation, finance and government sectors. Its coastal location and large port gives it comparative advantage over many other centers in South Africa for export-related industry.

The DMA is the main economic driver in KwaZulu-Natal, contributing over half of the province's output, employment and income. In national terms, Durban is the second most important economic complex after Gauteng. 

Durban International Airport services both domestic and international flights. The airport handled four million passengers in 2005, up over 15 percent from 2004. The Port of Durban, which was formerly known as the Port of Natal, is one of the few natural harbours between Port Elizabeth and Maputo. The Port of Durban is now the busiest port in South Africa, as well as the busiest container port in the Southern Hemisphere. Durban is well-served by railways due to its role as the largest trans-shipment point for goods from the interior of South Africa.



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