It’s difficult to let go, I guess. Arrived in the city as a naive, young student. Moved back with my gorgeous husband and raised my children in the ‘Sleepy Hollow.’ It was the best of times, and oh yes, some of the worst of times, but we stayed until we re-located to London.
Pietermaritzburg derives it’s name from two Voortrekkers: Piet Retief and Gerrit Maritz, and to this day there remains a strong Afrikaans presence, though watered with the ways of change. Taking it’s cue from the magnificent City Hall, the city can be classed as that of Victorian architecture. This building is reputedly the largest red brick structure in the Southern Hemisphere, but don’t quote me on this. We all know of it, the starting point for the Comrades Marathon, Handel’s Messiah and historical paintings of those who shaped the city. Equally statuesque is The Old Supreme Court opposite, housing the Tatham Art Gallery and of course, Mrs. Queen Victoria herself. Pietermaritzburg was an important city for the English when they came to take back their colony, in fact, a great place for tourists who revel in history, she has many stories to tell. I do miss walking through the narrow streets and Harwin’s Arcade, fond memories of ‘The Dingleys’ and the bookshops nearby. A little bit of English, t’was then. Today, an area filled with local street markets, honking taxi’s and of course, the statue of Ghandi. All these statues, dear Lord, must stay, for they remind us of where we came from and I am sad to see the desecration of some which should be revered.
As with most modern cities, commerce has moved into the suburbs and there is little of the inner place still as I remembered it. Standing in Church street to watch the parade, the Rag bunnies performing for collection (and just for the sake of performing). The restaurants and department stores are no longer, but this is change, and for those not part of my life back then, this is their city now, and we must embrace this – but city people in control, a little spit and polish would go a long way to rejuvenating the glory of this lovely lady. I mourn the passing of the Victoria Club, the bandstand in Alexandra Park for Sunday tea, and the memories of Grand Old Pietermaritzburg, but there is still plenty to see, and even more to do. What city can boast such events as the Comrades Marathon, the Duzi Canoe Race and the Saturday afternoons when schools clash in rugby. Winter magic. In all my years, and travels, little can come close to the heartfelt war cries of schoolboys in the cold season, pumping on tradition and pride.
Michaelhouse. I will forever be blessed that my son was part of this school.
There is still so many things to experience in Pietermaritzburg. The Royal Show, Art in the Park, the Open Gardens. Music in the Botanical gardens. Tea at Rosehurst. Lunch at the Flavour Cafe and tripping around the Mall. Driving to the Midlands on the weekends, down to the beach but an hour away. Between the beach and the berg, a gateway to a magnificent tourist experience.
What I am, is nostalgic. I think of the views over sugar cane, the smell of it burning. Summer’s hot and humid. Autumn of jewel colours, and endless space. Little girls in large Wykeham hats. St. Anne’s school when the mist is so thick I cannot find my way to the chapel. And the view. My house had the best view over Pietermaritzburg, and I miss that too.
So when I return, and she is a little shabby, I am sad. Her exterior may have changed, but her heart is still in the right place. The other day, before I left, I had an urge to see the cross from Delville wood. I remembered it so well, and how it still, after all these years, weeps resin in mourning for those lost in the First World War.
The cross is still there, but I was unable to get close for fences and barbed wire, but it is still there, a testimony to all who have come to stand there, pray there, and still have the chance to wonder at a lasting memory. Pietermaritzburg may have changed, but in some ways, she is still the same. Welcoming, adapting to change, but still a place to remind us of history and those who fought for her. Still a lovely place to live. You must put it on your travel agenda.
Image of Delville Wood cross from Zulu.org