The recent transmutation of the indigenous vernacular architecture of the people at Kwamthembu and Kwamchunu, Msinga district, KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa.
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The Msinga magisterial district, KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa is notable because it has for many years been regarded socially as a pariah region by residents of the Province. Over the decades it has been a 'dumping ground' for people and cultures, an infertile land where gun-running, the illegal cultivation of marijuana, and continuous stock theft has relieved some of the abject poverty, but has also exacerbated the local incidence of faction fighting. However, the people of the area have responded to this ongoing social submission by reacting with creativity and colour in their clothing, cultural goods and homesteads. The cultural material of the district is, in my opinion, unsurpassed anywhere else in the Province, from the traditional interpretation of the Msinga dolls to the exuberant architecture of the contemporary homestead. The layout and elevational resolution of any type of vernacular homestead, defined by Oliver in the first chapter, is a result of a broad number of factors, most importantly resources in terms of materials, economy, climate and culture. The response of the people of Msinga in the Tugela Valley embraces all of these factors to produce a surprising resolution that distills a fresh response to the architectural depiction of a social emergence from the peasantry. The internationally acknowledged prominent form of Zulu architecture, the beehive hut, has been adequately documented in the past. Biermann, Walton and Knuffel carried out different levels of work on this building type from the 1950s onwards. Nowadays, dwindling natural resources in KwaZulu-Natal have resulted in the creation of a new set of vernacular architectures, responding to the environment and resources available, and reflecting the specific needs of the builders, from the expression of social and economic values, to the pragmatic reality of protection from 'political strife. On the one hand, the buildings. in the Msinga Valley are changing rapidly with the natural life course of each building. However, on the other, the development of new architectural styles with the continual building of new units within homesteads demonstrates a dynamic architectural and decorative tradition. The co-existence of the material cultures of Msinga and their architectural expression has to be documented and an attempt made at analysis. The threat of indigenous vemacular traditions disappearing at the expense of development is visible on the horizon. Regional planning initiatives are pressured to deliver houses and services on a large scale, which would be severely detrimental to the continuance of a vernacular architectural tradition. The architectural culture, although currently dynamic, is at risk, and thus begs for documentation. I aim to present the unique decorative tradition of Msinga as an architecture within the contexts of place and extant material culture. Adopting anything but a broad socio-cultural perspective in this case is both short-sighted and ill-focussed. The architecture of rural areas is a material culture that is embedded in the history, social and political struggles, and economic strife. Yet, in contrast with these negative influences, it demonstrates an exuberance that is continued in the other material cultures in Msinga. I begin with an overview, pull out the thread of Msinga as an area, then distil the material culture and, ultimately, the architecture and the decoration.