Back to the lovely station

Posted by Doug Morton on Thursday, 14 April 2011

Those of you who remember the earlier blog post titled "Falling Apart" from some months ago will feel, with much justification, that I've nailed my colours to the mast regarding my feelings about the state and condition of our city, and thus of our society.  I can't pretend to be able to see past the destruction, neglect and dereliction that have become part of our lives.  Just a small part of my anger is related to how so many of us remember the city.  I see no political, social or economic reason for this descent into squalour.

When compiling that blog post I refused to add photographs as I was too distraught at what I'd found at the historic station, but did send some images to my friend and fellow-photographer, Simon Joubert ( and he immediately wanted to see for himself.  So it was that daybreak this past Sunday found us surrounded by the ruins and remains of the Pietermaritzburg Railway Station.

Even before we stopped our vehicles the stench had penetrated, and the atmosphere was close to tangible.  A veritable river of raw sewage ran along the side of the road, appearing from nowhere and disappearing back to nowhere some hundreds of metres downstream.  The morning was cloudless to begin with, not spectacular, but pretty with an orange sky in the east changing gradually to deep indigo to the west, over the suburbs of Prestbury, Blackridge and Sweetwaters.

The stream along the road is................  That's right.  You guessed it.

As the light improved, more detail appeared, and the play of light was fleeting, but fun.

Whether on his way to or from work, this chap had no cares about the dilapidation or the putrefaction all around him.  For him, this was just another day as he sauntered from somewhere to nowhere or perhaps the other way.

There's a mystery about old buildings.  One can just about feel the past lurking around each corner, as if the ghosts are on the prowl.  Especially in the early light it was easy to sense something beyond what I could see.  The sunlight played games with structural elements, accentuating the loss of integrity, and seemed to use even the weeds,litter and undergrowth to underline the onslaught of neglect.

While I was thus occupied, Simon was happily snapping away at signage of yesteryear.  Have a look at his blog.

All around there were interesting details like the siding end-stop that had obviously had to do its job at least once.....

The sheds that had once entertained the clamour and hubbub of loading and unloading of goods and freight were now silent, and even if the ghosts were about, they had no place to hide.  There was an awkward peacefulness.

The busy-ness of the past has gone.  Even the tracks have been torn up.  Nothing usable remains.

I'm always undecided about including powerlines as a feature of the landscape or doing whatever I can to eradicate them.  In a setting like a railway station, there's no choice.  They belong.  Here at least was semblance of industry, even though in the space of two hours we saw not one Spoornet employee, let alone imagined a train.

........... very aptly, (Simon mentioned this too,) the clock is stuck ....

and the Laughing Dove laughs, knowing there's little danger of being disturbed by a train on this, the main line between Durban and Johannesburg, while our leaders dither and the formerly potent infrastructure decays and literally falls to pieces.

After all, this is........

whose major claim to fame is an incident at this very railway station.

If this decay is allowed to continue, we've reached

the end of the line.

Is anyone listening?  Does anyone care?  Do Simon and I live on some remote island?

What a shameful thing.  PityMaritzburg.

(With apologies, I think, to Khaba Mkize)

Next time I'll tell you about the last day of our Eastern Free State sojourn.  See you there.


The decay of yesteryear - Very interesting and depressing - am afraid this sort of decay and dereliction is not unique to only PMBurg, the city which I know you love so much. You can go round parts of Cape Town and find the same, as well as, in all the little towns around. Like the passing of the Roman and Greek empires we are now seeing the fall of infrastructure in RSA. What can be done I often ask myself?? The answer I keep coming up with that in the new order WHO CARES. Why maintain? Just buy new ones when you need - is this not the African Way!! 

By: pamdon on April 15, 2011

Oh Africa... - The photos say it all, but even so you have yet again added to the reality of the decay with your powerful use of words. Is South Africa really destined to follow in the tragic footsteps of other African nations? For those who do care it is a very bitter pill to swallow.

By: deb on February 8, 2013

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