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Photo Essay: Durban’s decay and neglect

Photo Essay: Durban’s decay and neglect
Decay and filth at the Marikana building on University Street, Durban, 8 May 2024. (Photo: Felix Dlangamandla)

Daily Maverick’s Chief Photographer spent last week in KwaZulu-Natal on the election trail as the African National Congress rolled out the big guns in the contested and critical province. His camera captured images from Durban’s city centre.

Informal traders have taken over the sidewalks of the Durban CBD and Pietermaritzburg. Trying to navigate Durban, I couldn’t help but think how this once proud and beautiful city had become a shadow of its formal self. The city centre is overrun with homeless people, carrying recyclables and trying to sell their collections to trucks driving around. For many, this is the only way to survive, hoping to sell a few pieces of cardboard in return for a few rands to buy a meal.

Read more in Daily Maverick: Durban mayor acts like an autocrat while the city decays for all to see

Hawkers mostly sell food such as mealie meal and secondhand clothing, using anything with wheels to move their goods around.


MK party and ANC posters hanging on a street pole in Pietermaritzburg CBD. (Photo: Felix Dlangamandla)

As elections loom, campaign posters are on every lamp post, standing guard over dirty water flowing in the road gutters. It was heartbreaking to witness. DM

A garbage collector prepares a load of cardboards to be sold to recyclers in the city. (Photo: Felix Dlangamandla)


A man crosses Dr Yusuf Dadoo Street in Durban, pulling a trolley heaving under a load of mealie meal which he will deliver to various informal traders. (Photo: Felix Dlangamandla)

Durban CBD

Trolley operators in the Durban CBD lining up for more load requests as their way of making a hard-earned living moving wares for the street sellers. (Photo: Felix Dlangamandla)

Durban hawkers

Discarded waste on the pavement corner Dr A B Xuma and Dr Yusuf Dadoo streets with hawkers living the streets. (Photo: Felix Dlangamandla)

Dragonwyck building

Dragonwyck building at the corner of Broad and St Georges streets. (Photo: Felix Dlangamandla)

Park Road, Durban CBD

Decay and filth on Park Road in the Durban CBD. (Photo: Felix Dlangamandla)

Garbage and discarded bins left in the middle of the road near Victoria Street in Durban. (Photo: Felix Dlangamandla)

Durban China Mall

A Durban China Mall building that was damaged by fire in 2021. (Photo: Felix Dlangamandla)

Early Morning Market

Taxis parked next to Durban’s Early Morning Market. (Photo: Felix Dlangamandla)


An elderly lady tries to cross the street on busy Warwick Avenue. (Photo: Felix Dlangamandla)


A hawker selling chicken gizzards in Durban’s Warwick Avenue prepares the delicacy for his customers. (Photo: Felix Dlangamandla)

Warwick Avenue, Durban

A trolley operator crosses the street on busy Warwick Avenue in Durban, near the Early Morning Market. (Photo: Felix Dlangamandla)

garbage collector

A garbage collector carries a load of cardboard to be sold to recyclers in the City. (Photo: Felix Dlangamandla)

Vegetable hawkers

Hawkers selling vegetables in Durban’s Warwick Avenue prepare stock for their customers. (Photo: Felix Dlangamandla)

Marikana building

Decay at the Marikana building on University Street, Durban. (Photo: Felix Dlangamandla)


Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Pet Bug says:

    Good lord!

  • Tom Sel says:

    First of all, this article would have been better if you had presented a “before (photos from 30 years ago)” and a “now (2024)”. International readers or young South Africans might think that this is Africa and that these photos are what you’d expect to see in an African country. They need to see the decline of Durban, from what it was to what it is today.
    I grew up in a suburb of Durban, and downtown Durban was the best and most beautiful city in South Africa in the 90s, easily beating Cape Town as a vacation or tourist destination. My last visit to Durban was in 2011, and I’ll never go back or take my family there again. It was a frightening experience, I never felt safe in this city. It’s now 2024, 13 years after my last visit and it is so sad for me to see a once iconic city like Durban literally deteriorating.

    • Malcolm McManus says:

      I share your sentiments and currently live in the Durban suburbs. What is interesting and ironical in many of the photos, is the election posters of the ANC in the background of many of the images. A representation of the party that is responsible for the rapid decline of Durban and so many other cities around South Africa, with the exception of the Western Cape. I avoid going down to the beachfront just because I cant handle going through Durban to get there. I find the filth just too depressing. You have to come through the same filth and decay again on the way out of Durban. A serious anticlimax.

  • Jane Lombard says:

    My older sister studied in Durban before me. I used to be able to tell her how beautiful the city remained. I lived near the city hall, surrounded by culture. Things were within walking distance.

    There are people, unfortunately they are in charge, who don’t like beauty. You see them driving in their big cars and they throw their empty KFC packets out of their cars. You see them speaking harshly to their workers. You see them cross a red robot. They need the ugliness within to be reflected without. I’m still not over the July riots.

    Durbanites are very different from inlanders, across the spectrum. They have been overrun.

    These pics make me very sad and angry. Durbanites must eschew tribalism … Umngeni did it, so why can’t they.

  • Denise Smit says:

    Proudly Zuma and ANC country. Century to build and few years to destroy

  • David Mitchley says:

    This is the same for most inner city CBDs in South Africa, it has become the norm. Very sad.

  • Tony Reilly says:

    These photos could be of any city Africa.

  • mike van wyk says:

    Organised chaos. Life breeds out the slimy pool…

  • Geoff Coles says:

    Wasn’t the China Mall destroyed by the July 2021 riots…. not simply a fire.

  • Michael Jones says:

    Not a single white person to be seen in any of those photos!

    • Tumelo Tumelo says:

      This is a response of an instinctive idiot.

      • Scott Gordon says:

        or maybe just an observation .
        Just saw ‘ Back Packer Ben ‘ on U tube , touring the ‘ badlands ‘ of London .
        I played ‘spot the white guy ‘ , saw 1 in the whole video .

        • M D Fraser says:

          Spot on Scott ! We are indeed working towards a ‘more equal society’, dragging everyone down to the lowest common denominator.

          Tumelo Tumelo; comment predictable as usual.

  • Irmgard Becker says:

    It didn’t take very long, did it? Hundreds of years in the making, 30 years of ANC rule to destroy. And the worst part is it’s not really surprising. Yet Cyril says things have improved. For him and his fellow looters maybe.

  • Agf Agf says:

    And this is exactly what will happen to Cape Town, if the CTCC opens the door just a crack to let any low cost housing in the CBD. They should allow no vendors, no stalls, no informal traders. Clear the tent town around the Castle.

    • William Dryden says:

      I totally agree with you Agf there has to be a stance from the DA run municipality and not listen to the activist with alternative agendas.

  • Roy Hurrienarain says:

    I am formally from this then beautiful city 15 years ago. I had a business in William’s road & drove around these streets virtual every day without fear. I was in Durban in February this year & drove past all that your photos show. I got stuck in the traffic in Warwick Avenue & was praying to get out of there safely.

  • Eddie Maulson says:

    The Marikana building was once known as UKZN City Buildings and I along with many others studied there . Most of us were Education Diploma candidates having completed a bachelors degree. The place was safe and well maintained. Exams were written in a large hall and there was a small theatre in which drama students worked. We never once felt threatened and parking vehicles never presented a problem neither was theft ever an issue. I also learnt to play bridge there a favourite pastime in the refectory. In fact we sometimes would skip lectures to play a rubber. I mourn the passing of what was a wonderful facility!!!

    • Peter Oosthuizen says:

      Went to lectures there 4 evenings a week from 5-7 pm in the early ’60’s. Caught a bus from Umbilo Rd and later a train from Warwick Avenue. Sad but not surprising to see how it’s been ruined by this bunch of criminally incompetent wasters.

    • Peter Oosthuizen says:

      Went to lectures there 4 evenings a week from 5-7 pm in the early ’60’s. Caught a bus from Umbilo Rd and later a train from Warwick Avenue. Sad but not surprising to see how it’s been ruined by this bunch of criminally incompetent wasters.

  • richard from durban says:

    Oh how easy it is to blame when we choose our perspective rather than thinking critically. Could the degradation of the CBD be a result of business moving out to “greener pastures” in the north? Tongaat Hulett Properties guided the development of Durban from 1994. Their reward for centuries of land theft and slave trading. Could their plan have been to beneficiate their own land using tax payers money? How is a city to maintain a CBD when business community of the city all decide to leave in order to benefit themselves? At least THP’s unsustainable practice has backfired and the directors of THP find themselves facing jail terms. Sure, blame city leadership (ANC) but dont forget the complicity of the clever whites who lined their own pockets in the process – illegally – and their consultants who planned new cities that remain exclusive (were they designed to be that). Are these not the brains behind this catastrophe? Sadly, your photos are kak (technical assessment), your title is clickbait that a bunch of entitled twits rise to every time, saying much more about themselves than adding to the discourse.

    • Alan Jeffrey says:

      Richard. The degradation of Durban is 99% due to a Council that has through neglect, incompetence, corruption, greed and theft, destroyed the fabric of the city. This is a council that paid vast sums for a Bus system that sits decaying, black plastic bags at hugely inflated prices, houses that fall down, contractors that cannot do the job properly and to top it all, whilst there is not a single cent in the budget for the desperately needed maintenance and upkeep of the Nature reserve network, can afford to pay a City “Manager ” a salary of R 4.6 Million!!

    • Peter Oosthuizen says:

      Centuries of land theft – amazing that all of that was compressed between 1835 and 1994!

  • Gavin Knox says:

    I live in this Dirtbin, a compele shithole, one actually feels embarrassed to admit you live here, compared to bragging loudly about the awesome city before 1994…..

  • Craig King says:

    I am sure that if a few more street names were changed things would be much better.

    • Alan Jeffrey says:

      Start with changing Masabalala Yengwa back to NMR for example. OK or even to Yengwa Avenue. The street re-namers miss the point-Park Avenue, Bond Street, the Mall, Wall Street, Times Square, all short and easy to remember which is the logical way to do things

  • Confucious Says says:

    A while ago, my family and I took a wrong turn in Durban and ended up in the area near where the N3 terminates. We all agreed then, that Durban must be the filthiest and most decrepit city in SA. It is utterly filthy and neglected! We then remembered back in about 1988 at how proud the city was when they opened The Wheel shopping centre with its ‘market” feel. It pains us all to watch Durban, PE, JHB etc, etc… fall into squalor!

  • Peter Oosthuizen says:

    Food vendors everywhere – a veritable Cafeteria!

  • OK but the huts are clean.

  • Charl Van Til says:

    As someone who grew up in Durban, this is heartbreaking. The city managers who took over cared more about renaming streets than doing anything good for the city. The few friends I know who haven’t left the city yet speak of how corruption rules the day now. So sad to see this.

  • Patterson Alan John says:

    I have all the pictures I need in my memory of living in Durban between 1958 and 1990 and the nostalgia of Stuttafords clock meeting point, Payne Bros, ABC Shoes, University of Natal Latin lectures in City Buildings, surfing the beaches, night window shopping and all of the rest.
    Then I went to work in Transkei in 1990, living in Umtata for 3.5yrs, where the future South Africa was written on the wall. What I see in this photographic essay is what I saw every day in Umtata.
    I chose a future elsewhere.

  • Graeme Bird says:

    Once again so many of the comments here reflect the ignorance of racists shouting from their ivory towers. While the Durban CBD is definitely a mess compared to pre 1994 that was clearly an era so many of them wished they could still be living in. Oh and many of those pictures are of areas that looked virtually the same in 1993 but that none of these commentators would have ever dared leave their plush suburbs to visit.

  • Sihle Mkhamisa says:

    Now that we’ve seen the devastating pictures of the current situation, and have possibly spotted the problem, so, now, what is the solution?

    Is there a way out of this? Can we rebuild from what is left and make our cities great again?

    Because we cannot always solely blame the government and politicians, we are also part of the problem. The problem is that we see problems but we don’t bother come up with solutions.

    This problem of dilapidated and vandalized buildings, and of littering is not only on the CBD. They are all over the place. I’ve seen even privately owned dilapidated buildings in Morningside, Glenwood, Overport, etc. Do we blame government on them too?

    The time for blame-game is over. We, people, should come up with solutions, and do away with the mentality of entitlement.

    It is the mentality of entitlement that make us not to act and give solutions. We are entitled that the government must do it, not us.

  • Fadila Canthitoo says:

    It’s reminiscent of the decay of Johannesburg CBD around 25 years ago. It’s quite sad to see. That old saying is true: “Things fall apart gradually and then suddenly.”

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