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With the goal to celebrate the exceptionality of Welbedacht as a diverse and socially inclusive place, despite its marginal geographic location, was the reason behind the community driven exhibition called: Welbedacht – A beautiful place.

The community mini-exhibition and cultural celebration of eight storytellers’ photographs and their stories exhibition was officially launched at the Sarva Dharma Ashram, 46 Graceland Road, Welbedacht East, Chatsworth, Durban last Sunday, 27th March 2022.

The event was also earmarked as a perfect launch-pad for the eThekwini Municipality’s Local History Museum to share ideas on the roll-out of a potential programme for a larger documentation process of oral histories on how to make Welbedacht a more beautiful place.

The Welbedacht East area is situated in the south of Durban and the area was part of the first phase of one of the largest slum clearance projects in the history of the eThekwini Municipality. It is also regarded as a badly located project on the periphery of the city, with long commuting distances to work, no income opportunities within the area, and little state provided social facilities.

The Durban University of Technology’s (DUT’s) Urban Futures Centre (UFC@DUT) which is based in the Faculty of Engineering and Built Environment, is headed by Professor Monique Marks. Part of their work entails improving the quality of life of the most marginal in our society through engaged research.

In terms of the project pertaining to the Welbedacht community, Prof Marks, along with her team consisting of Programme Director, Dr Sogen Moodley, Dr Kira Erwin, Dr Tamlynn Fleetwood, Dr Jennifer Houghton and Glen Robbins, said the overall research goal is to discover how the community make sense of Welbedacht as a place and their role in the place-making process.

In attendance at the event were Eurakha Singh, Senior Manager at the eThekwini Municipality, Thevan Harry, Research Officer at the eThekwini Municipality, Thulani Makhaye, Art curator: eThekwini Municipality, the Welbedacht community members, community children, various stakeholders and DUT staff to celebrate the exhibition opening of eight storytellers from the Welbedacht community.

Expressing her appreciation to the attendees was DUT’s Prof Marks, who gave thanks to all who made the effort to be at the auspicious event.

“I just want to say that this event has come together because we have joined hands across the university, across the eThekwini Municipality, the Sarva Dharma Ashram that we in, thank you very much for providing a space. A space not in terms of a physical space but for the ambiance of welcoming everybody into the ashram as we welcome everybody into Welbedacht as a community,” she said.

She further explained that Welbedacht is a place of learning, a place where everyone can learn about how people live together in harmony and in peace.

“Welbedacht is a very unique and an unusual place and we come here to celebrate Welbedacht, to say this is a place that many of us can learn from, and indeed the whole country can learn about how people live together in the same space and that space is Welbedacht,” she remarked happily.

Prof Marks also indicated that they will be showcasing Wellbedacht in newspaper articles and in a website which will be linked to the UFC.

“All of this came about as the UFC committed itself to hosting ‘platforms of truth’ just after the July 2021 ‘failed insurrection’. Wellbedacht differed from many other communities in that there was no outburst of racial tension, or any significant looting. This, we believe, is because of the meaningful contact that residents of Wellbedacht have, and cherish,” she said.

Wellbedacht, according to Prof Marks, is one of the most diverse places in Durban and should be celebrated for its showcasing of cohesion and care.

“We learn from unexpected places”, she said.

Giving more understanding into the project was Pastor Vasie Pillay, Welbedacht community activist, and co-organiser of the exhibition.

She relayed that last year in July 2021, the community had experienced the worst experience of their lives with the looting, the loss of lives, as well as acts of racism.

She then relayed that she had received a call from Dr Sogen Moodley from the DUT and they (DUT) had wanted to do a little story on how racism affected Welbedacht.

“My reply was racism and Welbedacht does not go in the same sentence because we have been living together and we did not have that problem on racism in Welbedacht. We have multi-cultural, multi-racial people living together in this beautiful place. We, together are not looking at the skin colour or the hair texture, we are looking at human beings and that is what brought us here. When our beloved late president, Nelson Mandela was made president. He called South Africa a rainbow nation, and I believe even though I stand to be corrected, I believe he was speaking about Welbedacht as I can’t see another setting that is how Welbedacht is,” she expressed.

Giving more of the history of the beautiful place known as Welbedacht was Mumsie Naicker who is from the Naicker Family Trust.

She indicated that her late dad who became a teacher, saw that there was a need for schools and had acquired land from his grandfather, an indentured slave, and the land was then distributed amongst her dad’s siblings, the land where the ashram now has its foundation on.

“We are all so humbled to see what the Swami of this ashram and his team have done for this community. Today, my dad is smiling with joy for you and me,” she said.

Other speakers included Sis Brenda Govender who voiced her personal story on Welbedacht. Another storyteller, Swami Ramkripananda, who started the Sarva Dharma ashram 16 years ago on the land donated by the Naicker family, shared his sentiments, saying that Welbedacht is a base for peace, also adding that the Welbedacht community live in harmony and worship together.

Also sharing her appreciation for being at the opening exhibition was Ms Singh who thanked her team for being at the forefront of helping the community with issues at Welbedacht. She further indicated that the eThekwini Municipality is always at hand to help the community in any way that they can.

Other community members were also given the opportunity to convey their experiences of being part of such a beautiful community called Welbedacht.

In closing, Prof Marks thanked her UFC team, in particular Dr Sogen Moodley, for initiating this idea, for taking her to Welbedacht, for being a missionary and being an incredible colleague and friend.

“I’m thanking Dr Sogen Moodley not just for Welbedacht but he and his team have been incredible in every single project that I’m aware of. They really are inspirational in terms of what goes down to generosity and care, all of which we find in Welbedacht,” conveyed Prof Marks.

The event concluded with the community members and various stakeholders viewing the exhibits and chatting to the storytellers on their beautiful experience at Welbedacht.

Pictured: Prof Monique Mark addressing the attendees at the official opening of the community driven exhibition called: Welbedacht – A beautiful place.

Waheeda Peters

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