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A PARADISE AND ITS PEOPLE (article first published : 2007-10-22)

eThekwini Municipality has published a colourful and informative book about Durban by Peter Machen. Titled A Paradise and Its People and dedicated to much-loved diva Busi Mhlongo, it is an attractive, image-filled look at the many aspects of this multi-cultural city. It features well-known landmarks, architecture, places of worship, popular cuisine, fashion, personalities and sports as well as arts and entertainment venues. It also looks at sustainability, core values, political structures and the economics of the region.

Don’t be misled that this is something like an A to Z that a tourist can pop in a satchel bag, it’s a heavy, square 384-pager that is more of a coffee table book despite its soft cover.

The book informs the reader that the eThekwini Municipality is the economic centre of KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa’s second most populous province. The eThekwini Municipality covers 2,297km˛ with a population approaching four million people. With 90 kilometres of coastline and 320 days of sunshine a year, it is South Africa’s favourite holiday destination.

Writer and artist Peter Machen has been writing about the city of Durban/eThekwini in local and national publications for the last decade. He was commissioned by the eThekwini’s Communications Department to produce A Paradise and Its People as part of the eThekwini Municipality’s broader strategy of branding and marketing the city in innovative ways.

In assessing the challenging task of defining the Durban spirit, Peter Machen states: “There’s something inevitably foolish about reducing hundreds of years of history to a few pages. For one thing the texture of history evaporates without the countless individuals whose lives have been played out on its sweeping canvas. For another, in a multicultural society such as Durban, many important contributing strands are bound to fall by the wayside. But perhaps a little historical context will nonetheless prove useful to visitors to our fair city who would like to understand, in some way, how we got where we are now”.

If he hasn’t been able to give his readers the entire history of Durban, Peter Machen has certainly captured the city’s immediate spirit and its vision for the future.

My only criticism is that the book lacks what I believe puts Durban a cut above the rest – its wonderful greenery. There are always different trees in bloom, from the exotic frangipani to the cool blue jacaranda, and most plants grow in abundance, many of them having to be kept under constant control before they take over!

A Paradise and Its People is the perfect gift for visitors to give them an all-embracing notion of what to expect in Durban or as a farewell present to those leaving our city so that they can fill their homesick moments browsing through memories! Residents of Durban – and KwaZulu-Natal as a whole will find their eyes opened wide as they discover interest facts about a city they thought they knew well!

A nice feature is the colourful and offbeat map designed by Artworks highlighting major venues. It is stuck on one of the final pages and can easily be removed and slipped into a handbag or pocket.

A Paradise and Its People is published by Slipway Books and printed by Durban-based Atlas Printers with whom I have had a long and successful relationship over 25 years as they print the Durban Arts magazine, D’ARTS. On my monthly visits to see the magazine through to final printing, I have observed the pride and care with which Atlas has produced A Paradise and Its People.

Durban – A Paradise and its People retails at R185. – Caroline Smart




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