Remains of the day

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In a time frame that goes back more than 70 years, the remains of abandoned bunkers, gun towers and railroad tracks stand as exhibits of a much bigger crime scene: World War 2. And although the story of our involvement is unfamiliar to the majority of South African youngsters, these remnants on Garvey's Beach, Durban, (and on other beaches, too,) connect our history with that of the European colonial powers.

When Hitler attacked Poland in 1939, on September the 1st, a defence pact between Britain and Poland obligated Britain and its dominions to support Poland. Two days later, Britain declared war on Germany. And in South Africa, a furious debate in Parliament's halls of power, pitted those who were in favour of suporting Britain, against those who opted for neutrality.

On September the 4th, a United Party caucus shot down Hertzog's stance of neutrality, deposing him in favour of Jan Smuts. Upon becoming Prime Minister, Smuts declared South Africa officially at war with Germany and the Axis, and immediately set about fortifying the coastline against any possibility of a German sea invasion.

South Africa, after all, was strategically placed as a halfway station on that long but lucrative sea route to the east.