The Amanzimtoti lagoon looking south shot around 1910.
The Amanzimtoti lagoon looking south shot around 1910.

Then and Now: Amanzimoti Lagoon

By Frank Chemaly Time of article published Sep 12, 2020

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The pictures of old Durban this week are views of the Amanzimtoti lagoon. The first picture looking south was shot in about 1900, and the second of the Amanzimtoti Hotel, looking north, was taken in 1932.

The village gets its name from King Shaka. When the Zulu monarch led his army through the area on a raid against the amaMpondo in 1828, he rested on the banks of a river. When drinking the water, he is said to have exclaimed “Kanti lamanzi amtoti” (“So, the water is sweet”).

The railway line from Durban to Isipingo was extended to Park Rynie from 1896 and the first train passed through Amanzimtoti in 1897.

The first hotel in Amanzimtoti was built in 1898 to cater for holiday-makers, some of whom came from as far afield as Johannesburg on specially organised trains. It was built of wood and iron, but burnt down in May 1899. The rebuilt hotel was torn down in the 70s to make way for the Sanlam Centre shopping and apartment complex.

In 1902 a Mrs Swafton, a tourist from Johannesburg, visited Amanzimtoti and wrote that the area had one hotel, three or four houses and 12 huts on the lagoon. These were made of wood and iron or motor-car packing cases and served as holiday bungalows.

The Amanzimtoti lagoon with the Amanzimtoti Hotel in the background looking north, shot in 1932.

In 1910 the village had “a dozen families”, writes another visitor Bill Bailey, and the “Toti Hotel” had 50 rooms. The village was an hour’s ride from Durban by train, and he mentions a photograph showing a boat race held on the lagoon.

The picture of the hotel in 1932 was taken from the Facebook page Durban Down Memory Lane.

Many people moved to the village during the Great Depression, attracted by its cheaper cost-of-living. The town was granted local administration in 1934, with a population of 774.

One of the “highlights” of the 1930s was the arrival of popular singer Gracie Fields, who probably stayed in the Amanzimtoti Hotel. Electricity was introduced to the town in 1938, telephone lines in 1945 and running water in 1949 by the first mayor of Amanzimtoti, Olaf Bjorseth.

Today, part of the eThekwini municipality, Amanzimtoti is a much-developed but still popular seaside resort, flats standing on the hill and, as photographer Shelley Kjonstad captured in the modern picture, a still-busy train line linking north and south.

The Independent on Saturday

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