posted in: Mini Memories 6

John Taylor wrote in with the following:

Hi Allan,
Many older Durbanites will remember the plethora of sports and social clubs in the city. Almost everyone belonged to a club, starting with the Durban Club and the Durban Country Club at the upper end, the large school old boys clubs, many tennis, bowls, squash, soccer, and golf clubs, the Point and Royal Durban yacht clubs, and social clubs like the Merchant Navy and MOTH clubs.

The family went to the club for lunch on Sundays (served at ridiculously low prices), participated in or watched sport and quenched their thirsts in the bar, once again at ridiculously low prices. Club function rooms provided social evenings and dances, and hosted 21st birthday functions and wedding receptions, serving the usual curry and rice and chicken a la king!

In some cases membership waiting lists extended into years, like the Durban Country Club’s. How things have changed. Many tennis and bowls clubs have simply closed down. Others have amalgamated. The Durban Country Club is actively canvassing for membership. Golf clubs are advertising “last minute golf” on the internet and cellphones.

I was a member of the DHSOB Club for many years. Apart from the clubhouse, function room, and bar facilities, it boasted bowling greens, a swimming pool, tennis and squash courts, and one large cricket / rugby field, and a second rugby field. All that remains today is the run down  clubhouse which is being advertised as a conference centre, bowling greens, and the main field, the rest having been sold as residential property.

Is this the result of changing social attitudes? Has the cost of running clubs, e.g. municipal rates, driven membership subscriptions too high? Have the liquor laws influenced the situation? Bars were closed on Sundays many years ago. Does the traditional club have any appeal to the younger generation? Is the “club”, in Durban, like the dinosaur, going to become extinct, and perhaps be limited to sports only?

It will be interesting to hear the opinions of contributors.
Kind regards,
John Taylor

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6 Responses

  1. Mark Billingham
    | Reply

    Hi John,

    It is most probable that the main reason for the decline in membership of clubs in Durban is that a very large portion of the people that join and belong to clubs have migrated. Definitely all the Durbanites that I know of living in Australia (and there are many) belong to at least one club and most belong to a few clubs.
    Club membership and activity is exceedingly strong in Australia and clubs abound of all types. There is even a South African Military Veterans association which is growing at a fairly rapid pace. The younger ex- Durbanite generation here readily join traditional type clubs.

  2. Gerald Buttigieg
    | Reply

    Hi John and Mark,
    It is very difficult to pin point exactly why clubs have diminished here in Durban almost to the point of extinction. I include myself in that age group that experienced clubs/societies possibly at their most prolific but also have seen their dramatic decline.

    First of all let’s probe why there were so many clubs in the first place. Most of the well established clubs and societies were founded many years ago such as the Old Boys Clubs etc. So from early beginnings they flourished and some evolved a certain aura. It was good to belong to so and so club because it had a reputation. Then you have to consider that before TV arrived, life was more orderly, times weren’t as hectic and generally people had free time on their hands. Give a thought as well, that many people did not own properties as such and lived in flats. Belonging to whatever society or club gave you a means to get out for an evening, mix with your friends or new faces, do something you enjoyed, learn something new and get a fillip till the next meeting. Life was very social and there was something for just about everyone. Organised, regulated, entertaining and enjoyable enough that it kept you going back.

    Then came TV and now you had a box that could entertain you without leaving your lounge. I personally think this was the thin edge of the wedge. People started getting lazy and interest in so many things waned. Added to this, the lifestyle changes that started occurring threatened your safety. Was going out to meetings worth it? I recall the Philatelic Society of Natal (now KZN) used to meet at the City Hall Committee Room No. 3. On meeting nights 50 to 60 members would meet and really enjoy the evening. Loads of banter, tea and cakes. Their cars filled the parking bays around the City Hall and Aliwal St. Then the first car thefts started occurring and that was it. The PSN moved to a Bowling Club in Umbilo and numbers started dwindling. Today the PSN battles to exist.

    Technology also killed a lot of interests. Take photography. When the Polaroid camera arrived with its instant prints, poof went all the amateur photographic darkrooms in Durban. And when cameras went digital, that said goodbye to photo albums and the time that used to be spent keeping a photo record. I wonder how many millions of photos are sitting on discs and hard drives today. Mostly unseen! Ham / amateur radio also got hit by technology. It wasn’t worth building your own amp anymore when the one you could buy was cheaper to dump than to try and fix. Letter writing, post card collecting, as well, died with email.

    And then the change in lifestyle of the past 20 or so years. Life is now hectic. Parents spend more time carting kids around from one function to another these days. Kids cannot move around during daytime as they used to. I bussed to school and back every day for 8 years. Who has time to go to a hockey ground and practice from 5 to 7 in the evenings and meet the guys at the club afterwards? Sadly the world has changed. Sport used to be a participatory enjoyment now it’s a sedentary watch from the stands or the lounge couch! There also has to be instantaneous gratification. Hence the popularity of 50 overs cricket or the T20 slog game. Only diehards go and watch a 5 day game. Most hobbies are “too slow” demand “too much time” or “what’s the use” of it. It is a pity but that is the reality.

    Slowly but surely many of these things are fading away as interest wanes and there are fewer and fewer left willing to keep things going. Think about it. A fraction of the Durban sports clubs remain, most of them now amalgamated so they have lost their individual character. Women’s Institute, the Moth Clubs and many such societies and institutes are virtually down and out. Hobby and craft clubs hardly exist anymore. Socialising today is Face Book and Twitter. Anonymous millions “converse” with anonymous millions. Perhaps the present situation in South Africa has a lot to do with it. The wheel has surely turned here and we are the lesser for it.

  3. John Taylor
    | Reply

    Hi Gerald,
    Thanks for your astute observations, with which I fully agree.
    That entrenched Durban icon, the Durban Country Club, was apparently about to become insolvent some 18 months to 2 years ago, and a rescue plan utilising the Beachwood Golf Course property as collateral had to be invoked. Active canvassing for new members is also on the go, something unheard of in the past.
    It will certainly be a sad day if the DCC had to disappear.

    • Gerald Buttigieg

      Hi John
      Yes I remember reading about the financial situation at the DCC sometime ago in the Sunday Tribune. So they did go with the golf club as collateral. Never a member but did used to hear that to get in you had to get a sponsor who was in the club and then go through some vetting procedure which included a “black ball” process. Years ago I recall a furore in the papers when a top Durban Municipal office bearer applied for membership and he was black balled. I looked up the website and see you can get monthly membership these days fro R200. As I said the wheel has turned.

  4. Allan Hannah
    | Reply

    Hi Gerald
    I hope that my “pound of flesh” makes sense with regard to the club saga!
    Whilst I agree with most the sentiments expressed by both Gerald and John I don’t believe that clubs are dying!
    There are quite a few clubs that are flourishing and some even reflect an increase in membership.
    I believe that the older clubs that were “all rounders” inasmuch as they catered for a variety of interests and tried to provide facilities that would attract family attendance are probably those that are are on the slippery slope!
    However, if one looks at clubs that offer specific, specialist activities I think that many are successful in terms of membership. For example, Marine Lifesaving Clubs, Angling Clubs, Cycling Clubs, Bowling Clubs and so on!
    Gerald highlights a number of very valid points! Changes in lifestyle, security problems, and the high pace of life in general – folk are almost in a frenzy to get things done!

  5. John Taylor
    | Reply

    In one of my posts I mentioned the DHSOB Club.
    I see that what remains of the original property is currently up for sale.
    It is owned by the DHS Foundation and the proceeds (which are considerable) will be used for educational purposes.

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