Why Durban is So Uncivilised

Posted on January 20, 2017 by Cape Rebel

From Divinity Student
by Herman Charles Bosman

At Naudé acted in what we could not help feeling was a quite singular fashion. First he half rose to his feet, emitting a long moan. Then he suddenly slumped back again into his riempie chair, at the same time smacking the open palm of his right hand in a despairing manner against his forehead. His visage was noticeably contorted.

‘All this same old childishness,’ At Naudé exclaimed, ‘that’s supposed to be clever, or that’s supposed to be funny. I can’t stand it anymore, this heavy what’s assumed to be Marico fun. If it’s not Jurie Steyn doing it, it’s Chris Welman. Or it’s Gysbert van Tonder. And if it’s not Jurie Steyn’s wife, it’s Oupa Bekker or it’s me. And if it’s not me, it’s – oh, I tell you, it’s driving me mad. And when I switch on the wireless, it’s the same thing.’


So Oupa Bekker said that if it was civilisation that At Naudé wanted to get away from, well, there was always Durban. He had been to Durban only once, Oupa Bekker said, but that was enough. It was quite a story, too, how he got to Durban, in the first place, Oupa Bekker added. But Durban was quite a good place to go, if you were sick and tired of civilisation.

‘The same old thing,’ At Naudé remarked to Oupa Bekker. ‘And I know exactly what you’re going to say, too. It was in the old days. And you went there by mule-cart. Or you were a transport-driver, and you went there by ox-wagon. And on the way back you gave a young student of divinity a lift as far as Kimberley.’


‘Every time Oupa Bekker speaks it sounds to me as though he is being introduced by a wireless announcer, and as though there is somebody playing the piano, for background effect. I mean, Oupa Bekker isn’t real to me anymore.

‘Even the way he spits behind his chair – well, it looks to me like a put on kind of spit, if you know what I mean. I don’t feel that Oupa Bekker is spitting just because he has to.’

We looked at At Naudé in amazement. It was clear that he was in a pretty bad way, through too much civilisation – that he was getting over the wireless and from reading newspapers. There was no telling how far this sort of thing could go. We felt that we wanted to help him, if we could.


It came as a relief to us – for At Naudé’s sake – to hear Oupa Bekker’s voice once more.

‘The last time I went to Durban wasn’t in the old days, but two years’ ago,’ Oupa Bekker said. ‘And why I said that it was like a story was because I went there by train. I had never before in my life travelled so far by train. And that was a wonderful thing for me. Because I would never have believed, otherwise, that you could journey so far by train. We didn’t once have to get out and walk. Or change to a post-cart. Or mount a horse ready-saddled that would take us along a bridle-path over the worst part of the rante …’

‘Then it couldn’t have been in the Union,’ Chris Welman shouted out, trying to be really funny. ‘You couldn’t have been travelling on the S.A.R.’

We were pleased that Oupa Bekker ignored Chris Welman.

‘No trouble over the whole journey,’ Oupa Bekker continued. ‘It was only when I got off at the station and a Zulu came and pulled my portmanteau out of my hands. I had never in my life seen a Zulu like that. He had bull’s horns on his head, and sea-shells on his feet. That was just how my grandfather had told me that the Zulus were dressed at Vechtkop.’

We laughed at that, of course. After all, those of us who had been to Durban knew that about the rickshaw-pullers – the way they dressed up to look ferocious. But all they did was to transport you and your luggage to a hotel.

‘That sort of talk,’ At Naudé began, his lip curling, ‘and I suppose when you got to the hotel …’

‘That’s why I say that Durban is so uncivilised,’ Oupa Bekker explained. ‘Because it was only when we got to the hotel that the rickshaw-puller started apologising for all the boot-polish brown that was coming off his chin. He was working his way through college, he told me. He said it was steadier work than looking after babies or mowing lawns, and the sea-shells on him rattled as he spoke.

‘He was a divinity student, the rickshaw-puller said.’