ISBN 9780639804040
Pages 282
Dimensions 244 x 170mm
Published 2022
Publisher Natal Society Foundation, South Africa
Format Paperback

The Royal Agricultural Sociey of Natal, 1984-2021

by Bill Guest

The Royal Agricultural Sociey of Natal (RAS) is one of KwaZulu-Natal's oldest and best-known institutitions. This volume provides a detailed overview of two earlier accounts of its history since 1851 and updates it from 1984 to 2021. It is a story of dramatically fluctuating fortunes, which in many ways reflects the experience of the whole province and, in particular, its agricultural sector.

In the face of financial, political and other uncertainties the RAS developed its property into the largest mixed exhibition centre in South Africa. This was due in large measure to firm but prudent leadership as well as the dedication of a small, reliable staff complememt and the enthusiasm of numerous volunteers who served the institution in a wide range of capacities

From the 1980s Pietermaritzburg's well-known Showgrounds became the venue not only for the internationally renowned annual Royal Show but an increasing variety of functions. Its facilities comfortably hosted birthday parties, wedding receptions, funerals, the launch of new motor car models and agricultural equipment, equestrian and livestock events, graduation ceremonies and lavish openings of the provincial legislature. Not least, the annual Garden Show attracted increasing nationwide attention.

Virtually all these activities were abruptly truncated by the Covid-19 pandemic of 2020/2021. This had particularly adverse effects on the exhibition industry, although the Showgrounds did generate some alternative income as a provincial quarantine field hospital.

The book concludes with the debate surrounding the sale of that property, which had become increasingly difficult to operate as a a venue for agricultural events as it was gradually enveloped by urban sprawl. Hence the RAS decision in 2021 to search for alternative land on the fringes of Pietermaritzburg that was better suited to its all-important agricultural purpose while continuing to meet the expectations of the city.

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About the Author

Bill Guest

W.R. (Bill) Guest is a professor emeritus and senior research associate in Historical Studies on the Pietermaritzburg campus of the University of KwaZulu- Natal. A doctoral graduate of the Howard College (Durban) campus of the former University of Natal, he has published a variety of articles and has authored, co-authored, edited and co-edited more than a dozen books on South African history, focusing primarily on the socio-economic and institutional history of the Natal-Zululand region. In 2013 he won an Amafa AKwazulu-Natali Award in recognition of his contribution towards heritage conservation in the province.