Breathing Spaces: Environmental portraits of Durban’s Industrial South was shown in Durban Art Gallery in July 2007 and traveled to Cape Town’s Iziko Gallery of Good Hope at The Castle in January 2009. The exhibition was the culmination of a project that was launched in 2002 and that focussed on three adjacent neighbourhoods, Wentworth, Merebank and Lamontville.
From the start, our aim was to build a composite portrait of the Durban harbour’s residential-industrial hinterland, an area that bears the strong imprint of apartheid-era planning and a longer history of racial segregation. Lamontville, Durban’s oldest African township, was established in 1934. Today it is next to an industrial area, Mobeni, and across the highway from most of Merebank and from Wentworth, where the stacks of the Engen oil refinery towers over surrounding council flats and houses. Other large industry includes the Sapref Oil refinery and the Mondi paper mill. Numerous smaller petro-chemical companies also add to the high levels of pollution of Durban’s industrial basin. Many elderly residents have childhood memories of growing up in a semi-rural environment of wetlands, market gardening and relatively dispersed factories before the arrival of petrochemical industry from the early 1950s.1 In the 1960s, as the Durban municipality realized its dreams for a racially segregated city and implemented Group Areas legislation, Wentworth was established right next to Durban’s first refinery. This high density ‘Coloured’ working-class township was separated from the ‘White’, seaside neighbourhood the Bluff by a natural ridge and by thick bush, and from Merebank (declared an ‘Indian’ group area in 1958) by a single street.