Durban the Segregated city

Town planning & regional development: Case Study Grey Street Complex

Walk through the history of the Grey Street ComplexForced removals: Cato Manor

The history of the Warwick trading area/Grey Street Complex is long, often complex, and sometimes turbulent. In a microcosm it has presented the tribulations that less affluent traders, both African and Indian, have had to suffer in order to earn an honest living, in a social and political climate which, in time, has always favoured the white, the rich, the powerful, and the well-connected.

The story of Warwick predates its establishment as a market area and goes back to 1860 when the first of 152,641 Indian farmers came to the Natal Colony as indentured labourers. When their five-year contracts expired, few renewed their indenture, some returned to India, but nearly 60% chose to make their permanent homes in a new country. In the 1870s they were followed by families of entrepreneurs, so-called “passenger Indians”, who had independent funding, paid their own passage, and established themselves locally as traders.

By 1884 it was estimated that some 20,877 free Indians had made their homes in Natal, and that many of these, having few advantages, turned to market gardening as a means of making a living. By 1885 some 2000 were labouring on lands in and about Durban, and although some had begun to prosper, many still led a hand-to-mouth existence. The town provided a convenient market for their produce, and access to this outlet, therefore, became crucial to their economic survival.

Initially there were few established outlets for Indian-grown produce. The original market was an open-air affair, located on land bound by Pine, Gardiner, Smith and Aliwal Streets. In 1876 the Durban Town Council provided a Market Building at the corner of Pine and Gardiner, behind the old Post Office building, and in 1901 a new Borough Market was built on the thin sliver of land, previously owned by the Railways, between Commercial, Railway and Pine Streets. This fine, twin-turreted building housed most of the city’s wholesale food needs, including meat, fruit, vegetable and flower producers. Unfortunately its occupancy was largely limited to whites, although Indian farmers were allowed access to the premises after hours, provided they disposed of their fresh produce at lower prices than those of white traders. The Borough Market was eventually demolished in 1971 to make way for a parkade, an act of cultural vandalism still remembered with anger by many of Durban’s older residents.

Eventually even this meagre access was denied and Indian farmers and retail traders were forced to turn to hawking and street trading as a strategy for survival. This was done from baskets and hand-drawn carts, which limited the amount of produce any one person could carry, and thus prevented any competition with established, and mostly white-owned, shops.

The western end of the Pine Street Reserve developed as a public square which, in later years, was used as a site for open-air meetings by the budding labour movement and the Communist Party, becoming popularly known as Red Square. Although its size and status has since been seriously compromised by subsequent developments, it remains an important component in the fabric of the Grey Street-Warwick historical precinct.

Hawkers, by their very nature, conducted their business in areas controlled by the Council, and over the next sixty years were subjected to a barrage of regulations, bye-laws and non-statutory discriminatory measures aimed at curtailing their activities. Not unnaturally, therefore, they too sought a more stable environment to trade in. In 1890 the Trustees of the Jumma Masjid, or Grey Street Mosque, invited the mostly-Hindu farmers to sell their produce in the mosque courtyard. Initially this was done gratis, but later on a small gratuity was charged to meet costs of upkeep. Farmers bringing their produce to market could outspan their wagons on a piece of ground on the south side of Warwick Avenue, near the Berea Road Station.

In 1909 a schism developed between Muslim and Hindu farmers. As a result the Hindu group organised a Market Committee to meet with the Council to request the establishment of a separate market for their exclusive use. Meanwhile they moved into temporary premises in nearby Victoria Street rented from a Mr Acutt. On 1 August 1910 the municipality opened a new market on a site on the corner of Victoria, Queen and Brooke streets, despite protests from the farmers that this was too close to the Catholic Cathedral and the “Native” Meat Market on Victoria Street. Despite an initial boycott, the Council subdivided the building into stalls, which were then let out to traders selling vegetables as well as a number of additional goods, including powdered curry, fish, meat, birds, sweetmeats, tourist curios and ice-cream. At the same time the ad hoc market in Victoria Street was closed down.

At about the same time an additional open-air street market was developed by the Council in Victoria Street, extending from Grey Street in the east to Brooke Street and the corner of Cemetery Lane in the west. This was frequented daily by about 200 sellers, a large number of whom were women, who traded in staple vegetables and lined both sides of the street, using carts, barrows and baskets to display their wares. Farmers and their families began to arrive each evening at about 18.00 and often slept underneath their carts before trading began at 04.00 the next day. Trading ceased at 09.00 on weekdays and 10.30 on a Saturday, and about 30 minutes later a municipal water cart moved down the road to wash it down. Toilet facilities were only available within the Stallholder’s Market, whose doors opened at 05.00, but separate amenities for the street vendors were eventually provided in 1919. This became known as the Squatters’ Market, reputedly because many of the traders squatted cross-legged in the street alongside their goods.

In many ways these developments were a response to the establishment, in August 1894, of the Berea Road railway station, at the convergence of Berea Road and Smith Street. Although a rail line had been driven through the area in April 1867, this does not appear to have created an undue barrier to the movement of goods and people from Warwick Ave to the main market areas in Victoria Street. The wagon outspan was located immediately beyond the station, and the site was well served by Durban’s ricksha transport trade.

By the early 1930s, trading in the Victoria Street Market had become heavily congested, giving voice to deep-seated religious and caste differences within the Indian trading community. This was hardly assisted by the Council itself when, in July 1931, it attempted to halt all street trading in the Victoria, Brooke, Cemetery and Queen street areas. Instead it offered to the Hindu trading community a new and larger facility, located on a tract of marshy land west of the railway line, and immediately north of the Berea Road Station. The site had been used since the early 1900s by African women, who had begun displaying their wares on the northern side of the railway line, on the fringes of the Indian street market. They had been allowed to remain there unhindered during the 1920s, when the Council had begun to harass Indian hawkers in the city, in a concerted attempt to drive them out of the white-controlled CBD. Thus, when it proposed to open an extension to the Indian Market in 1933, the Council located its new market buildings there. The building, known as the Warwick Early Morning Market, was opened on 1 February 1934 and, from the outset, was used equally by produce sellers of all backgrounds, while the original Victoria Street Market, better known as the Indian Market, or the Stall-holders’ Market, became an outlet for more diversified goods.

The street market in Victoria Street was finally discontinued at the same time, giving its traders little choice about their future. Despite being officially described as Indian markets, the meat and produce available from here were of good quality and cheaper than those available from equivalent white-owned shops, and over the years the good citizens of Durban have consistently voted with their feet in giving them their support.

At about the same time as it was erecting the Early Morning Market, the Council began to reconsider the location of the Borough Market in the heart of the city. Over time its facilities in Pine Street had become congested, and the availability of a railway siding at Berea Road Station had made the relocation of some of its retail functions to Warwick Street pre-eminently suitable. As a result, on 1 October 1935, a new Bulk Sales Hall was opened on a site immediately south of the Early Morning Market. Better known as the English Market, it dealt in types of bagged produce, fodder and poultry. This fine brick building stood in stark contrast to the Early Morning Market, which was housed in a rudimentary, open-sided structure with concrete tables and few amenities. Access to the area was originally limited to a bridge which crossed over the railway line at Theatre Road, and was probably built before 1910, but this was improved in about 1931 with the construction a road bridge over the railway line at Victoria Street, and the development of a boulevard in 1933 linking Warwick to Old Dutch Road.

Although Apartheid city planning did not become a factor in South African municipal affairs until after 1948, plans for a segregated city were already being conceived in Durban in the early 1940’s, and a racial zoning plan was adopted by the Council in 1952. During the 1970s Apartheid planners rezoned Warwick, together with the nearby Grey Street and Berea Road areas, for the exclusive occupation of whites. As a first stage of this ethnic cleansing, market farmers trading at Warwick were removed, under strong protest, to the National Fresh Produce Market in Clairwood. Non-farmers were allowed to continue trading at Warwick under temporary permits, but the Municipality was still considering plans to remove the remaining traders to Chatsworth.

The Victoria Street Market was destroyed by fire on the night of 16 March 1973, in a blaze whose causes were never fully explained. As a temporary measure the traders displaced by the blaze were housed in the Bulk Sales Hall of the English market, until the old market could be rebuilt. This was re-opened for business in about 1980, after which the Bulk Sales Hall was demolished to make way for extensions to Market Road.

This paralleled similar, racially motivated events in other urban centres: Vrededorp in Johannesburg, District Six in Cape Town, and South End in Port Elizabeth. Even at that stage, the Municipality was already using improvements to the city’s road infrastructure as an excuse for its actions, and in the 1980s announced plans to drive the Western Freeway extensions through the heart of the area, involving the demolition of large parts of its amenities. The public outcry that then followed brought the project to a halt, but it was obviously never fully abandoned, and has now been resuscitated as part of more recent proposals which will place taxi ranks on top of a privately-owned supermarket facility on the Early Market site.

Given its location near the Berea Road Station, the conversion of Warwick into a transport hub seems to have been inevitable, and probably began in the early 1900, when an area near the railway was given over to outspan facilities. The transition from one form of travel to another has traditionally acted as a powerful draw for both transport and commercial activity, something which was recognised in 1968, when an ambitious plan, put forward by Durban planners, established Warwick as integral part of future developments. Unfortunately this could not foresee an additional complicating factor which emerged in the late 1980s, when Durban’s segregated Black public transport system collapsed, and was gradually replaced, from November 1987, by a fleet of privately-owned mini-bus taxis. Today an estimated 8000 such vehicles are operating in the city.

In about 1965 the Railways proposed to relocate Berea Road Station to a site immediately north of its former location adjacent to the Early Morning Market, and to develop it as a fully segregated facility. At the same time a number of sites in and about Warwick began to be used a informal bus ranks, while the Durban Municipality’s own bus sheds were located but a short walk away, in Old Dutch Road. By 1985 the triangle of land immediately north of Warwick, on Centenary Road, designated on 1929 maps as Corporation Stores, had become the Victoria Street Bus Terminus. The precedent, therefore, for using Warwick as a bus depot is not new, although it is also not sensible, or sensitive to the needs of a broad range of citizens of this city.

This then is the broad history of Warwick. Quite clearly its retention was, and still is, linked with the struggle of black people for economic survival and the control of urban land. Originally this struggle was conducted against a colonial government, and then with the ideologues of Apartheid. What is astounding, however, is that the self-same struggle should now be waged against a democratically elected city government who, theoretically at least, should be sensitive to the needs of one of its least advantaged constituencies. The arguments used by the Council have changed little over the years, and the same hoary old potatoes have been dredged up time and again. Health and sanitation is a time-worn excuse used by Colonial authorities to cover up the fact that they were the parties responsible for not providing the necessary health amenities in the first place. Poor traffic flows is another such reason given, ignoring the fact that segregation, racial discrimination and Apartheid have created the situation in the first instance. Finally it is a fact that Warwick is in direct and successful competition with predominantly white-controlled businesses whose prices are scarcely attuned to the needs of less affluent members of our society.

Traders in Victoria and Warwick have, over the past century, been subjected to constant attrition, gradually forcing them ever outwards towards the fringes of our city, where land prices were lower. For the past 70 years they have been able to make a place for themselves in the urban fabric, while the rest of the city has grown about them and the value of their land has gradually risen. Today the Council has cast its greedy eyes upon Warwick, and seeking new developments which will increase its rate income, has sought to drive out this final pocket of democratic struggle. In doing so the ANC appears to have forgotten its roots.

Warwick and everything it stands for is the inheritor of the Freedom Struggle, the fight against totalitarian thinking and racial discrimination. The Council, in its actions, is unwittingly acting as the historical agent of past racist and discriminatory policies, and its apparatchiks are now blindly trying to finish off what five generations of bigotry could not.

The article was written for SAHO by Franco Frescura and Len Rossenburg in 2010.

Last updated : 20-Apr-2018

This article was produced for South African History Online on 30-Mar-2011