World Cup Heritage

The contexts in which heritage is revived are interesting. My brother and I passed the Vasco Da Gama Memorial on Durban’s Esplanade about a week and a half ago and noticed that it was unmaintained, in a state of disrepair and in need of some attention. It seems that the municipality shared our sentiments as the memorial is due for restoration, just in time for the Soccer World Cup (see Mack Makhathini article below).

But why now? While the municipality might argue that a lack of funding has previously prevented the restoration of the memorial,  I would imagine that given its perceived historical value, funds would have been made available for its restoration and maintenance. Who then, is this heritage for? Overseas tourists who equate heritage with historical monuments and memorials? Durbanites? Is it relevant to them and if so, why has it been ignored for so long?

vasco memorial
Vasco Da Gama Memorial

Article by Mack Makhathini
The 112-year-old Vasco da Gama memorial clock and drinking fountain is in line for a long-overdue restoration and will possibly be relocated from its site on Margaret Mncadi Avenue (Victoria Embankment). The public have been invited to make suggestion for the possible move.

Chairman of the Infrastructure Committee, Councillor Visvin Reddy, said the memorial was erected in 1897 to mark the 400th anniversary of the Portuguese explorer’s voyage to India, during which he named this area Natal on Christmas Eve, 1497. Manufactured by Macfarlane’s Saracen Foundry in Glasgow, Scotland, in cast iron to a design selected from their catalogue, it was originally placed at the corner of Mahatma Gandhi (Point) Road and Southampton Street, near the Point docks. Reddy said it was relocated to Margaret Mncadi Avenue opposite Jonsson Lane in 1969.

“The clock/fountain is included in the Municipality’s list of important places and buildings in Durban and is also protected under the KwaZulu-Natal Heritage Act as a public memorial,” said Reddy. Municipal Architect and Principal Urban Designer Arthur Gammage said a 1984 survey of historic buildings and objects noted that the present site of the memorial was inappropriate as the position was arbitrary with no historical or spatial significance other than possibly the Navy’s SAS Inkonkoni building, now the BAT Arts Centre, across the railway tracks. Trees also tend to obscure clear views of the memorial.

Gammage said, “The structure is now showing serious deterioration due to its age and the corrosive sea air. Funding has been provided for complete restoration, before the World Cup. “Since the restoration involves dismantling and reassembling the structure, the opportunity arises to relocate this special feature to best advantage, if considered necessary,” said Gammage. Reddy said the proposal to remove the clock is open for public comment for 30 days.

Comment can be sent to: The Director, Amafa KZN, Box 2685, Pietermaritzburg, 3200.

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