A Guide to Glenwood Street Names: Frere Road/Esther Roberts Road

Glenwood’s streets reflect the character of the neighbourhood- stately and historic, yet inviting and inclusive. These characteristics are also embodied by the names of its streets, which, through various cycles of change have reflected the ways in which Glenwood, Durban, and indeed South Africa as a whole have transformed throughout their histories.
Ignoring the controversies that have accompanied the renaming processes, the Glenwood Collective will, over the following weeks, examine the names of our streets, both old and new. With the help of historian and Glenwoodian Dr. Annie Devenish, we will explore the individuals and families honoured on Glenwood’s street signs and assess their influence on local and national history.
These summaries are far from complete biographies, and we encourage you to pursue your own reading on the subject.

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Frere Road/Esther Roberts Road

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Sir Henry Bartle Frere

Bisecting Lower Glenwood as it runs south-west to neighbouring Umbilo (where it becomes Bartle Road), Frere/Esther Roberts Road is home to a number of Glenwood’s premier landmarks, including the Open Air School, the Baha’i Centre, and some of Durban’s most prominent sex workers. Frere Road got its name from Welsh arch-imperialist and racist of note, Sir Henry Bartle Frere. Frere gained his reputation as a colonial administrator in India, eventually rising to the position of Governor of Bombay. From 1877 to 1880 he served a tumultuous reign as British High Commissioner for Southern Africa. As High Commissioner , Frere had grand ambitions for British Southern Africa, and wanted to pursue the idea of a Confederation of all Southern African territories, with a view to being appointed Governor of the entire region. These efforts alienated both the Boers and the colonists of the Cape Colony, resulting in the overthrow of the Cape’s elected government. Furthermore, his aggressive and high-handed policies provoked or contributed to a number of local conflicts, including the bungled Basotho Gun War, and ultimately the Anglo-Zulu and First Boer Wars. Unfortunately for Frere, these campaigns were far from complete British successes and his career was unable to survive the humiliating defeats of Qalabani, Isandlwana and Majuba Hill. Frere was recalled to London in 1880 to face charges of misconduct where he died in comfortable disgrace in 1884.

 

Bitterly racist and imperialistic, even by 19th century standards, this cartoon from 1879 depicts Frere vanquishing the “negrophilist” liberals of the Cape government, represented by MP Saul Solomon.

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Roberts’ former home houses one of the world’s largest collections of African arts and crafts.

If Sir Bartle Frere represents South Africa’s violent past, the current namesake of Frere Road, Esther Roberts, represents hope for a more inclusive and compassionate future. Born in Roberts House on Frere Hill along the road that now bears her name, Esther Roberts was one of South Africa’s first female anthropologists.  A committed member of the Black Sash, in 1929 Roberts helped to found the Race Relations Institute of Durban, a policy Research Centre still operating today, which spoke out vocally against apartheid policies. As an academic, Roberts produced a large array of valuable scholarship on Zulu traditions and culture, and her early work on the Nazareth Baptist (Shembe) Church in the 1930s is considered ground-breaking. Her home, Roberts House, is one of the oldest homes in Glenwood, and was built in the late-Victorian style by her parents in 1896. Esther Roberts resided there her entire life, and the house was declared a national monument upon her death in 1980. Today Roberts House has been restored to its original condition and is the location of the Phansi Museum, which displays one of the largest collections of Zulu and southern African traditional artifacts in South Africa.

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Roberts House on Esther Roberts Road in Glenwood.

 

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