Grey Street Complex

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Aerial shot of the Currie's Stadium 1950s.

Curries Fountain Sport Ground

Preserving memory against forgetting

Currie's Fountain is listed as one of the major sites of protest in Durban in Harrison's book on Top Sites in South Africa; Struggle (2004). He contends that the "war against apartheid was not simply a South African story but that it was part of a global struggle for justice and humanity" and as such is relevanct beyond the country's borders. Harrison draws on a phrase by Rusty Bernstein and argues that we need to preserve "memory against forgetting" and one way of doing this is by visiting and celebrating these sites and "Where necessary, we need to restore and develop these sites as precious markers of a painful, but ultimately triumphant, story."

Currie's is one of the important Durban sites that has earned the right to be a marker, where we need to preserve memory against forgetting.

The history of Currie's Fountain sports ground is intertwined with the neighborhood it is located in (Warwick Junction/Grey Street area). It was and is part of a wider context of a people, places and the built form. It has always been a largely open space that served as a gathering space for large numbers of people. What appears to have started as a neighborhood gathering space, primarily for sport, became much more in the history of South Africa's recent past. The numerous sporting, cultural and political events over an eighty year period has shaped the iconic status Currie's enjoys in the minds of many - locally, nationally and abroad. Because of this rich history, "Currie's" can become the pivot and catalyst around which the story of the interrelated spatial history of the precinct, known as Warwick Junction is "told" and integrated. (a major transport node, not only for the crowds who converged on and from Currie's, but also to the rest of the City)

The area has always been considered important in planning developments- but for a whole range of reasons other than its past. Current planning initiatives for the WJP indicate that a more holistic approach to the redevelopment of the area is to be followed.  Bus and taxi ranks are to be rationalized, traffic diverted, pedestrian concourses introduced, markets incorporated, links and connection- but very few links and connections with the past.  The soul of the area has not been accorded the same attention as the traffic, roads and commercial activities. The history of one of the older parts of the city with a distinct aesthetic and atmosphere has not been accorded the same importance as other areas in the City or the Country as a whole. Comparisons have been drawn with District Six and Kliptown, as ex-resident of the area and now CEO of South African History Online (SAHO), Omar Badsha states:

"Currie's Fountain, Scala Building and the University forms part of a unique Apartheid Ghetto. The history of the Grey Street complex, the Warwick triangle or the Imperial Ghetto as it has been called has not been accorded the same importance as District Six, Sophiatown and Kliptown in the rewriting of our history. The importance of this area will come into sharp focus as we get closer to 2010. Currie's Fountain forms the backdrop to Durban's hosting of the World Cup and it being the oldest Black sports ground in the country should be used to present to visitors and future generations, what it was like to live in an apartheid ghetto."

The character of the area, in its built form, was shaped by the history of the country as a whole but more specifically about the history of Durban and the apartheid laws that prevailed and contributed and shaped the character of the area. It  determined the transport nodes, religious sites, sports amenities, commercial, educational, residential, and entertainment sites. Many people have their roots in the area and fondly (and not so fondly) remember Currie's Fountain, popularly referred to as 'Currie's'.

DUT occupies and is surrounded by several buildings, roads and spaces that have a substantial historical significance dating back to 1878 when Durban's first reliable water source, came from the Currie's Fountain area. Adjacent to the famous Warwick precinct, is Currie's Fountain Sports Ground -arguably one of the most historical sites in Durban, not only with regard to the role it played in the history of the early development of Durban, but also of non-racial sports, entertainment, religious, and political events in the city and region. It became part of the sporting and resistance life of the City.

The institutions and spaces, around DUT, that make up a larger historical precinct are comprised of: Currie's Fountain Sports Ground (Currie's), Botanic Gardens, Greyville Racecourse, M L Sultan Campus, St. Anthony's Church, Orient School, St. Aidan's Hospital, Sastri College, Durban Fire Station, Scala Building and Cinema, Mansfield Primary School, the residential area that existed on the current Steve Biko and Ritson sites, Wills Road, Berea Road, and Warwick Road. Together with the Grey and Beatrice street areas, it comprised the "non-white' side of town.

Currie's Fountain has such an iconic status in the memories of many and has served as a venue for numerous events in the City -yet so little is documented on its history and it has become a rather neglected space. Neglected in a physical sense and neglected in the history of the City and the people it served for so long.

The Warwick Precinct, of which Currie's is a part, is a major transport and trade node in the City and is surrounded by a rich mix of activities, uses and institutions like Golf Course, Racecourse, National Garden, University, Hospital, Fire station, Stadium, Temple, Church, Mosque, Cemetery, Hostel, Schools, Residential formal and informal trade around major bus ranks, taxi ranks and a train station.

A large part of Technikon Natal and now the Durban University of Technology's history is rooted in this historic precinct. The establishment of TN on the site, now known as Steve Biko Campus, changed a community - the residential neighborhood that sat side by side with Currie's Fountain, Scala Cinema, schools, shops, religious sites, bus ranks, Botanic Gardens, racecourse and the then consolidated M L Sultan Technikon site (1956) in Centenary Road.

Feature Parent: 

Last updated : 29-May-2012

This article was produced for South African History Online on 16-Mar-2011

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