A Guide to Glenwood Street Names: Chelmsford/JB Marks 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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Chelmsford Road/JB Marks Road

 

Chelmsford, now JB Marks Road, bisects Upper Glenwood, demarcating the boundary between between the Glenwood that jols on Davenport and the Glenwood that jols on their anniversary, if they can find a babysitter, maybe. Running along the side of the ridge, it passes St. Augustine Hospital, before ending at Berea/King Dinizulu Road.

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For eThekwini Municipality, the purpose of changing the road names has been to decolonise Durban’s spatial history and create inclusive landmarks that represent the accomplishments of the majority of the local population- A legitimate goal that has been achieved by many of the changes. Yet, in the case of Chelmsford Road, the municiplaity might have achieved this purpose better (though ironically) if it had left the road unchanged.

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Next time you go to Nev’s ask for “The Chelmsford”

Frederic Thesider, 2nd Baron Chelmsford, was perhaps the British Empire’s worst general. Born in 1827, Chelmsford was a career solider in the British Army. Given overall command of the British forces which invaded the Zulu Kingdom during the 1879 Anglo-Zulu War, he consistently underestimated the martial prowess of the Zulu nation. At the outset of the campaign he unwisely divided his forces. As a result, a portion of the main column was isolated, overwhelmed, and destroyed by King Cetshwayo’s general Ntshingwayo kaMahole  at the Battle of Isandlwana. Isandlwana is the British Empire’s worst defeat against an indigenous foe, and Chelmsford was fired by London as a result. However, before the orders reached the army he invaded Zululand a second time with a much stronger force, ultimately defeating King Cetshwayo at the Battle of Ulundi. Chelmsford’s reputation never recovered from the disaster at Isandlwana and he never served in the field again. Chelmsford died from a seizure whilst playing billiards at the United Service Club in London in 1905.

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The official Lego playscape for Isandlwana

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John Beaver Marks

JB Marks suffered far greater for his convictions, but unlike Chelmsford, is remember for his successes rather than his failures. John Beaver (!!!) Marks was born in Ventersdorp, Western Transvaal (Northwest Province). An avowed Socialist, Marks joined the Communist Party of South Africa (CPSA) in 1928, eventually becoming chairman of the SACP. He narrowly escaped assassination in 1929 when a fascist opened fire on the platform he was speaking from.  In 1942, Marks was elected to the presidency of the Transvaal Council of non-European trade unions, and in the same year became the President of the African Mine Workers Union (AMU). One of the leaders of the 1952 Defiance Campaign, Marks was banned under the Suppression of Communism Act. After he was banned, Marks continued to be active. He was a founding member of the South African Congress of Trade Unions (SACTU). He was listed as a co-conspirator in the Rivonia Trial and left South Africa in 1963 for political exile in Tanzania. He died in Moscow in 1972 while seeking medical treatment. He received a state funeral when his remains (along with those of Moses Kotane) were repatriated home to South Africa in 2015.

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Concluding statements by Dr. TJ Tallie: In sum, letting the name Chelmsford remain would be greatly ironic in that it would commemorate the failure of colonialism, or at least the inability of the British to control the Zulus in any way that they imagined. In that vein Chelmsford is a useful name because it marks failures of historic power rather than trials. I might add that JB Marks is a fantastic choice for the street, because he represents resistance to the very powers that people like Chelmsford served.

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Dr. Yusuf Dadoo and J.B. Marks

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