Durban Reveals its Liberation Heritage to MBA Class

Anthony Wilson-Prangley, a lecturer from the Gordon Institute of Business Science at Pretoria University recently brought two groups of learners through to Durban to experience our Liberation Heritage Route. Below is a recount of their visit as told from the perspective of Anthony:

Here we are, in an area of Durban that I don’t know at all. I jump out of the bus we are in and ask a lady nearby, “Where is the entrance to the Denis Hurley Centre?”. She points to a courtyard round by a large church just off the bustling street.

With a group of students following me, we cross the street and enter the courtyard between the Emmanuel Cathedral and the Denis Hurley Centre. People huddle in conversation and books are being sold to support the livelihoods of homeless people in the area. We are soon warmly welcomed by Raymond Perrier, Director at the Denis Hurley Centre. This is the starting point on a learning journey focussed on the economic history and struggles of Durban. Raymond sets the scene by describing the work of the Centre in this fascinating part of the city.

An aerial view of the informal traders, with the Durban CBD in the background

I am a faculty member at the Gordon Institute of Business Science. We recently launched a manufacturing-focussed MBA programme in partnership with the Toyota Wessels Institute for Manufacturing Studies (TWIMS) in Kloof. What is the connection between economic history and manufacturing management? I am teaching a course on Human Behaviour and Performance to first year students on the MBA.  As part of this course we connect our students with the context around them. It is easy for up-and-coming business leaders to forget the journey we are on as a nation. Yet new leadership theory shows how important contextual understanding is when leading teams and large organisations especially when people come from diverse backgrounds.

With this objective in mind, I am excited by the opportunity to explore a small part of the Liberation Heritage route around the Denis Hurley Centre and the Victoria Market. My hope is to show our students around the area and help them understand some of the historic and current challenges.

Mr Roothren Moodley, a trader and leader in the community first helps us understand the personal struggles of many traders for economic freedom. He shares a number of important stories he experienced directly. He brings home to me how personal these issues are for many people who grew up without the opportunities that we now take for granted.

Steve Kotze, from the Durban Local History Museums, then kindly shows us around a few of the key sites for the new Liberation Heritage route. He provides us with the detailed historic background on these trading spaces. We go up through the traditional medicine market, across to the Morning Market and then through a variety of trading stalls around Warwick Junction.  The space is highly organised and a vibrant mix of different trades and cultures with money and goods rapidly changing hands. I am reminded that despite travelling all around South Africa – there are spaces in our country that I have no understanding of.

Art for sale in Durban’s Victoria Street Market

We then cross over the street and enter the Victoria Market. Steve describes the history of this market and many of the students in the group buy spices and curios from the shops. We end the walk at the site of the Victoria Beerhall (eMatsheni). This is a site of a historic protest by the wives of those who frequented the site. Not much is left now of those buildings, but we can imagine the scene all those years ago.

Back in Kloof, at the TWIMS campus, we then discuss the experience together.  We have a frank discussion about our country’s past. For some in the group it is new knowledge. For others it is a reminder of what their parents and grandparents went through. For some it is a walk down memory lane. There is a sense of the need to further invest in these market areas. There is privilege at learning about the liberation heritage of Durban. There is also a desire to come back and visit again. We highlight the need to really listen to one another when sharing and the value of dialogue as a tool to understand and appreciate one another.

For me, as an outsider from Johannesburg, parts of this city have been being revealed for me. I am reminded of the need to hear from elders with real life experience of our brutal and challenging past. There is a window of opportunity to learn from them. But this window is closing. We need to continue to capture these real experiences and share them with one another.

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