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Tropical City

by Samora Chapman / 02.03.2012

On the eve of eThekwini’s annual Tourism Indaba we sent Samora Chapman in search of some images to tell the story of his city. But he got distracted, lured off the beaten track, intrigued by the unseen…

Durban's Poison - Blue Lagoon

I need a snap of Blue Lagoon so I head over to the northern edge. The notoriously decrepit corner of Poison City was saved by development ahead of the World Cup and the Green Hub was a central venue for COP 17 events. The scene is pristine: the blue-sky view is streaked with sea birds… the uMngeni gushes down into the ocean as paddlers stroke the velvety water. Lush green mangrove forests creep along the water’s edge.

Durban's Poison - Raj The Billy Goat Gruff

Durban's Poison - Under The Bridge

As I follow the walkway under the bridge downtown I meet Raj the Billy Goat Gruff and his bra’s where I learn to fish with live bait, fight about life and chain-smoke roll-ups. They don’t seem to make use of the modern amenities… judging by the urine-flavoured breeze. They were here before all that jazz. A giant rat attempts to go for the big kill and drag me into its cave. I slip on sardine guts as I evade the predator; I hope I don’t get diseases. Raj catches about a kg of fish a day, which he sells to the fish-market on Sparks Road.

Durban's Poison - Pirate

A pirate kid tries to sell me a belt buckle made of real bits of panther… so I escape the whole movie and head for higher ground in search of enlightenment.

Durban's Poison - The Church

I’ve been dying to photograph the church that suddenly emerged when the walls of the military base at Battery Beach were recently torn down. The demise of the fortification revealed a beautiful expanse of un-developed land and ancient fig trees that survived the rapid spread of urban development. In the middle of the plot the old church stands like a relic of a bygone era; the windows are bordered up… the holy place abandoned. Sun-coast Casino and the Moses Mabhida Stadium loom over the little wooden structure. It’s like three shrines fighting for the right to shine. The Casino shrine to Filthy Lucre. The Mabhida shrine to Sepp Blatter. And the church shrine to the King of the Jews. We all got our idols.

Durban's Poison - Road To Nowhere

Just beyond the empty plot is a road to nowhere. It’s like an amputated limb, or unfinished business… town planning gone wry. It’s a great spot for long exposures and a unique view of our sticky tropical city.

Durban's Poison - No Woman No Cry

But it gets lonely in the city-night so I jet to Florida Road to eat a roti and listen to the buskers croak “No Woman No Cry”… their husky vocal cords soaked in the residue of a thousand jut spliffs. Once my belly’s full and the humming voices have faded up the road, it’s time to hit the jol and go mingle with the night crawlers.

Durban's Poison - Rage

Durban's Poison - Matric Stardom

I hook a commission to photograph Matric Rage… where emancipated teens converge on paradise to get loose on Durban juice. I have visions of drunken jocks pounding my art-fag self while goddesses from the binneland snigger at my third world physique. But I’m proved wrong. The kids are friendly and welcoming… homogenously beautiful and styled for stardom.

Durban's Poison - Drunken

Durban's Poison - Stealing The Limelight

After the disco, I head for Berea Train Station to try and get a snap of the mystical fairies that sometimes dance in the moonlight in nothing but their underwear. Isn’t it funny how jockey has a monopoly of the inner city skyline? But I get intercepted by a drunken cat who steals the limelight.

Durban's Poison - The Forgotten Children

The forgotten children of Poison City need to be represented here too so I go in search of the kid that begs day and night on Musgrave Road. His name is Sanele… the crucifix hanging around his neck reflects the one touching the sky. Sanele is really beautiful if you take the time to look when you drive past him tomorrow. When I ask where his parents are he replies with tears.

Durban's Poison - Bot Gardens

When the city heat drives you mad and the rat race breaks you… escape to Bot Gardens and soak in the shade. Any way you look at it, Durban’s got the poison.

*All images © Samora Chapman
**Matric Rage pics published courtesy of THIIS.

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