DURBAN is officially South Africa's playground.

That is how the KwaZulu-Natal city is marketed. Tourism statistics show that it is the most-visited city in South Africa, with people flocking there for fun on the beach and all that.

Some people even believe the sea water cures illness.

But on my recent trip to the Banana City, I learnt that there is much more than just fun in the sun. I have been to Durban a zillion times because of the beach and the lekker weather. And at times because of the sardine run.

But never before have my eyes been opened to the rich history of this city. The take a Sho't Left campaign by the tourism department to put South Africans in touch with their homeland really hit home.

I actually forgot about the beach when we arrived at the KwaMuhle Museum, which used to be the native affairs department under the leadership of SJ Marwick, the city's first municipal manager.

Marwick had helped get about 000 Zulu soldiers who were stranded during the Anglo-Boer War to return home. It was unheard of at the time for a white man to help black folk.

So the Zulu people said: Waze wa muhle lo muntu (what a good-hearted person).

Also, the office was used to register all black people who descended on the office looking for jobs in the city. Shockingly, they had their private parts dipped in a detergent, presumably to ascertain that they had no illnesses. But this detergent played havoc with their organs and made their private parts shrink. As a resukt they were then unable to father children. At the time the authorities had calculated that the Zulu population outnumbered the English and they wanted to strike a balance.

I have never known any of this and I think these stories should be kept alive.

I also heard about the Cato Manor riots of 1969 . Evidently, our mothers used to brew beer to sell in the city . They did this to make money and to see their husbands.

But when the authorities realised how much money the women were making they banned the beer, decided to sell their own beer and used the money to build the townships. We were told that that is how the townships were created.

Many other interesting historical events took place in this playground.

But you cannot go to Durban and not play, so I decided to take a boat cruise. It turned out to be a terrifying experience because of my phobia for lots of water. I felt as if I was dreaming when the boat pulled out of the harbour. And then reality struck. Even the beauty of the city from the sea could not calm my nerves. Not even the delightful Moses Mabhida Stadium.

The sight of the big ships in the vicinity did not help matters at all. I spent the entire tour glued to my seat, much to the amusement of my fellow travellers.

The kind tour guide suggested that I move down to the lower deck. I just looked at her and grinned foolishly, because I was too scared to open my mouth.

It was only when I was imbued with the spirit of artistry at the Bat Centre Trust that I somehow recovered. The talent of young visual artist Nozipho Mbele just warmed my heart.

We were told that this centre had produced many artists. Here the students are hands-on everything - including playing guitar, drums and painting.

There are many other historical sites that the schedule had dictated we visit, but for some reason we didn't. But the next time I pay a visit to Durban,I will make certain that I do.

Perhaps when city marketers sell tourists the city, with women dressed in bikinis on the beach, they should find a way of infusing its history too.

I'm sure that I'm not the only one who didn't know about its rich history.