Durban, South Africa

Reference work entry


Situated on the east coast Durban was originally known as Port Natal. It is the largest city in the KwaZulu Natal region of South Africa, the country’s principal seaport and the busiest port on the continent.


Europeans first came to settle in 1824 under the leadership of Francis Farewell. However, Port Natal had long been a refuge for beleaguered seafarers and it is thought that Vasco da Gama anchored here in the fifteenth century. During the seventeenth century Dutch seafarers struck a deal with a local chief for a section of coastal land. The bay was blocked by a sandbar and by the time that the settlers made it across the sandbar in 1705 the chief had died and his son refused to honour his father’s contract.

Finally, settlers from the Farewell Trading Company established a community. King Shaka of the Zulus allowed them to stay, convinced that these settlers posed no threat to the Zulu way of life. A fort was erected and the town of Durban, named after Sir Benjamin D’Urban, the Governor of the Cape Colony, was founded in 1835. Voortrekkers established their capital at Pietermaritzburg in 1837, turned southeast and, taking advantage of chaos caused by Zulu impies, claimed Durban for themselves. Despite sporadic attacks by both the Zulus and the British the Boers seized control of Durban at the Battle of Congella. The British retaliated by sending a frigate and recapturing the town. Within 2 years the British had secured and annexed all of Natal. Durban was created a city in 1935.

Modern City

Durban is home to the South African sugar. The city’s major exports include sugar, grain, minerals and coal. Louis Botha airport is 15 km to the south. Durban railway station provides services to Johannesburg, Cape Town, Bloemfontein, Ladysmith, Kimberley and Pietermaritzburg, as well as numerous regional destinations. Local transport is by Mynah Buses which run from North and South Beaches into the city centre and adjoining suburbs.

Places of Interest

Durban’s Local History Museum, in Durban’s original court house, includes a reconstruction of the city’s first white settler dwelling, a post office and an apothecary. Durban Art Gallery, established in 1892, is on Smith Street and houses a large collection of English, foreign and South African works. It houses beadwork, glass and carvings from Zulu culture as well as well known South African artists like Andrew Verster and Penny Siopis. The Natal Playhouse stages drama, avant-garde plays, opera, musicals and cabaret in five adjoining theatres.

Fitzsimons Snake Park holds venom-milking demonstrations; snakes include South African and exotic species. There is an aquarium in the heart of Durban’s Golden Mile linked by an underground tunnel to the dolphinarium where daily seal and dolphin shows are held. Overlooking the Umgeni River, Umgeni River Bird Park ranks among the world’s best. Many varieties of brightly coloured birds, both indigenous and exotic, inhabit walk-in aviaries set in picturesque gardens.

Copyright information

© Springer Nature Limited 2019

Personalised recommendations