Jackson - May 2005
About Durban I wrote of a little booklet called Spotlight
on Durban which was produced by the Durban Publicity Association
sometime shortly after WWII. The booklet was designed to attract
people from Europe to settle in Durban. The immigration laws
of the time made it very easy for white people of European
origin to enter South Africa to live, and Durban wanted her
share of them.
were many more blacks than whites in South Africa and the
government was keen to address this imbalance by encouraging
more whites to settle here. I didn't realise until recently
that, at one time, the government had been prepared to put
its money where its mouth was and offer incentives in the
form of free passage and a few weeks free accommodation on
arrival to qualified immigrants.
was an organisation, in Durban at least, which helped immigrants
settle into their new lives and was funded jointly by government
and churches. This information came from a very interesting
chat I had recently with my informant Willemine Starrenburg
who ran the Maatskapij vir Europese Immigrasie (Council for
European Immigration) for six years until 1970.
couple Willemine and Gerry van Weers arrived as immigrants
in Durban on 1 May 1960. Recycling and the collection of waste
paper was unknown in Durban at that time, so Gerry started
a business called Capital Waste, which still exists today.
Willemine soon got a job in the Dutch Consulate and, in about
1964, moved to MEI to work with immigrants who were experiencing
the same problems that she had
Courtesy W Starrenberg: Willemine Starrenberg appears
cover of the Dutch community magazine De Schakel.
located on the sixth floor of the Immigration building in
Gardiner Street, between West Street and Victoria Embankment,
and ideally placed to offer help and advice to the immigrants,
many of whom couldn't speak English or Afrikaans. Willemine
and her colleague Maria Martin spoke nine languages between
them and were a mine of information on everything an immigrant
might need to know.
MEI helped people find housing, schools for their children,
and translations whenever required. Desperate husbands would
come in to report that their wives were not settling down
in Durban and were longing for home. MEI's advice in these
cases was for the husband to send his wife home on a visit;
experience had shown that they would return in a much happier
frame of mind, having realised just how much Durban had to
Courtesy W Starrenberg: Willemine, left, and Maria
Martin take a break in the Town Gardens, nearby their office.
of MEI didn't end when its office doors shut because there
were plenty of picnics and trips arranged so that the immigrants
could socialise with each other. Many of them were taken to
the symphony concerts at the City Hall where they were given
their first tickets free courtesy of Aubrey Pletnick, Director
of the Durban Municipal Music and Entertainments Department.
Courtesy W Starrenberg: Willemine, second left,
is pictured on an immigrant's trip to the whaling station
in Durban. The train was unique to Durban and carried whales
from where they were pulled up the slipway in the bay around
the Bluff to the whaling station where they were processed.
The passengers are being carried on the flat deck on which
the whales normally lay.
told me that she enjoyed her time with MEI and, especially,
the bit where they took immigrants on outings and picnics,
etc.. A sad part of the job, she said, was when an immigrant
was killed or injured and MEI had to liaise with their families.
A number of immigrants left South Africa soon after their
arrival but many went on to become pillars of the community.
There were exceptions and one was arrested on suspicion of
bank robbery while another was caught at the airport with
a suitcase full of goods he had bought on credit from Durban
left Durban 10 years to the day after she arrived but, like
me, she came back.