A postcard from the mid 1970s showing uMhlanga Main Beach and the newly built Cabana Beach Resort.
A postcard from the mid 1970s showing uMhlanga Main Beach and the newly built Cabana Beach Resort.

Then and now: uMhlanga Beachfront

By Frank Chemaly Time of article published Jan 31, 2021

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Durban - The picture of old Durban this week takes in the beach promenade at uMhlanga Rocks, with the old picture a postcard shot in the mid 1970s soon after the Cabana Beach Hotel was opened in 1974.

The town was founded by Sir Marshall Campbell in 1895 as a holiday resort for mill workers. As early as 1863, Campbell’s son, Alfred, built a cottage named Oyster Lodge out of Burmese teak and corrugated iron. The roof was painted white to serve as a navigational beacon. This is now the site of the Oyster Box Hotel which, while not visible in the old picture, its red awnings can just be seen at the far end of the promenade in Shelley Kjonstad’s picture taken last week.

The first hotel in the village was built by Marcus McCausland in 1923 and included two old trams as annexes. Named the Victoria Hotel, it was a great success and hosted, among others, Irish dramatist George Bernard Shaw.

After many additions and alterations, the name of the hotel was changed to the uMhlanga Rocks Hotel. This can be seen as a double storey rectangular building behind the brown block of flats, the uMhlanga Mews, in the middle ground. Both are part of the massive Pearls development today.

The lighthouse was built in 1952 because ships were mistaking the Umgeni River mouth for the Durban harbour, often with tragic consequences. It was completed in 24 hours, apparently to prevent the structure from cracking. It was built on the beach after a dispute with the owners of the Oyster Box.

A view of uMhlanga beach looking towards Durban. uMhlanga has seen had a lot of development in the last 40 years. Shelley Kjonstad/African News Agency(ANA)

Also in 1952, the Oyster Box Hotel, then an overgrown property, was sold to the O’Connor family who started a tea garden, which was eventually turned into the five-star hotel we know today.

The Beverly Hills Hotel, seen in the background of both pictures, opened its doors in December 1964. Built by casino magnate Sol Kerzner, it was named after his daughter Beverly, and it soon attracted celebrities from abroad, among them Maurice Chevalier and Marlene Dietrich.

Cabana Beach (today a timeshare resort) was built by Anglo American in 1974. It comprises 217 self-contained suites and is directly opposite the main swimming beach, while the low-rise buildings in the foreground are today the apartment building Sea Lodge.

The original photograph was probably taken from the Wave Crest Boarding House, today the site of the uMhlanga Sands Hotel which was built in 1976 and can be seen in the new picture.

In today’s picture, our Kjonstad shot the scene from a friend’s apartment in the block Mahakane which fronts onto Bronze Beach, slightly further back from the original. The striking point of the new picture is the empty beach caused by lockdown regulations, despite it being a Saturday morning.

The Independent on Saturday

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