Upgrade for historic hall

The Manaye Hall in Imbali is set to get a multi-million rand upgrade with hopes to attract tourists to the area, but funding is still a challenge.

The hall is known worldwide as it is the place where former president Nelson Mandela gave his last public speech as a free man in 1961. He was later arrested in Howick as he made his way to Johannesburg.

The upgrade of Manaye forms part of the Freedom Route, which includes links to other struggle icons in Msunduzi and extends all the way to the Mandela Capture Site.

The hall makeover has already seen the KwaZulu-Natal Co-operative Governance and Traditional Affairs (Cogta) giving R5 million to Msunduzi, but more funding is still required. The department and other stakeholders are trying to mobilise sponsorship as the project requires a further R39,3 million.

“This will be a catalyst for township tourism and local economic development. It is also a long overdue recognition of Nelson Mandela and the results of the All-in African Conference that he addressed there in March 1961,” said Dumisani Mhlongo of the Pietermaritzburg Msunduzi Tourism Association.

Work on Manaye will include an amphitheatre, sidewalks, a coffee shop and new entrance.

Project manager Mlungisi Mdladla said the first phase is already under way. Construction for the amphitheatre started two weeks ago with completion expected in three months.

“There is not enough funding allocated at the moment so the project will be spread out in several phases depending on the available funding at the time,” said Mdlaldla.

Msunduzi has started the process of acquiring the three private properties adjacent to the hall.

Vijay Bandu, who lived across the road from the hall when Mandela came to the area, said he is delighted that the place will be developed into a tourism precinct. “I’m glad the hall will stay as it is because they will be developing the place around it. But I’ve requested that they bring back the old name [Plessislaer Arya Samaj Hall]; by changing it [to Manaye] they have altered history,” he said.

According to Bandu, the All-in African Conference was initially meant to take place in Edendale but when the organisers got there, they found that it had been bugged with police recording devices. The delegates, including Mandela, reportedly walked all the way to Manaye.

“When they came my dad told them that they were welcome to use the hall but there were not enough benches. They had to go and borrow benches from one of the churches,” he recalled.