- Voices of Resilience: a living history of the Kenneth Gardens municipal housing estate in Durban by Monique Marks, Kira Erwin and Tamlyn Fleetwood
'Memory is dialogic and arises not only from direct experience but from the intercourse of many minds.'(Sacks 2013)
In the introductory pages of Voices of Resilience (page 9), a quotation from Oliver Sacks is offered as a justification and expansion on the value of using oral history as a research narrative. The stated value of this volume is that personal and live accounts of people's experiences of their living environments afford readers unedited and authentic representations of the post-apartheid urban landscape. It strikes me that this provides a suitable premise for this review and emphasises the value of this publication.
Voice of Resilience: a living history of the Kenneth Gardens Municipal Housing Estate in Durban, is a courageous and ambitious volume that seeks to get 'under the skin' of a social housing estate established during apartheid. Kenneth Gardens, in Durban, was part of a larger programme of addressing urban poverty amongst whites in South African cities in the 1940s. Built in 1948, the 28 blocks of flats that make up the development, is one of the biggest social housing projects constructed during apartheid. The provision of urban social housing was part of a coordinated response [End Page 121] from different levels of government to the findings of the Carnegie Commission, formed in 1928 to address the so-called 'poor white question', as a result of 'the uneven development of capitalism' and urbanisation in the first decades of the 1900s (du Plessis 2004:881). The provision of social housing for the new urban white working class in cities such as Johannesburg and Durban, became an important part of ensuring adequate living conditions for manual labour on the railways, in ports, in industries, and the many other functions considered essential to creating the modern South African city. Understanding these dynamics provides us with important insights into the economic history of these spaces. The value of this book is that it provides the reader with experiential continuity as the oral histories of some of its original apartheid-era residents are combined with the accounts of those that settled in the area after 1994.
The book is structured in four parts: the first part provides an academic base and important background to understanding the oral history method as well as the value of Kenneth Gardens as a case study. It also includes a moving yet rigorous reflection from one of the authors, Kira Erwin, on her own experience of growing up on the estate. In this regard, Erwin refers to du Plessis's work on Jan Hofmeyr housing estate in Johannesburg and refers to the shared outsider/insider dynamics and hidden understandings shared by residents in both these areas. The sense of 'we are in this together', of shared battles and ongoing struggles, is a running theme in what follows. Part 2 essentially tells the stories of 23 residents of Kenneth Gardens, collected between 2010 and 2016. The oral histories are divided into three epochs: during apartheid or under what was known as the Durban Corporation governance period; changes during the period when the Group Areas Act was scrapped; and contemporary times. The profile of respondents reflects a representative range of age and gender, and, critically, race. The accounts range from the very personal to the fascinating social dynamics of what has become a truly diverse space. Part 3 of the book comprises a photo essay by celebrated photographer Cedric Nunn, which includes visuals of some of the respondents as well as the physical conditions of Kenneth Gardens. This works well as an expansion on the oral histories and is particularly poignant since so much of the collective narrative is about place. The conclusions in Part 4 provide an elevated and academic reflection on the oral histories captured within the context sketched in parts 1 and 3. I was tempted to rush through the...