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Grey Street: 50 shades of modern success

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The area was not destroyed during apartheid, and today it provides a look into another time in the country’s development

The Grey Street area, named after Grey Street which is now known as Dr Yusuf Dadoo Street in honour of the anti-apartheid activist and South African Communist Party and South African Indian Congress chairman, is intrinsically tied to the history of South Africa’s Indian population

The British introduced indentured Indian labourers in the 1860s to work in the newly established sugar cane plantations. Indian traders, many of whom had originally lived in the Gujarat area, came to the country at the same time. Today Dr Yusuf Dadoo/Grey Street exists as the heart of Durban’s old Indian business and residential area, and the cultural heart of the KwaZulu-Natal Indian community.

In August 1881, Aboobaker Amod Jhaveri and Hajee Mohamed purchased a site on which to construct a mosque, and the Juma Masjid or Grey Street Mosque was the first of its kind built in Durban. It is also now the oldest and largest mosque in the southern hemisphere and can accommodate about 6000 worshippers during Friday prayers.

Grey Street’s particular Indian architecture is characterised by colonnades over the pavements, narrow lanes leading to courtyards behind facades and, according to, “the fondness shown for the flamboyant and curvilinear architecture of the 1920s and 1930s”.

By the 1950s, the various streets comprising the Grey Street complex each promised its own function – the eastern part of Victoria Street held the theatre, while the western part comprised the markets and grocery stores. Grey Street was the clothing zone. Queen Street was filled with barbers on one side and hardware and timber shops on the other. Pine Street housed the tailors and Prince Edward Street the sari shops and jeweller. Outlets selling sweetmeats and other Indian cuisine were scattered throughout the neighbourhood.

The iconic Victoria Street Market was originally founded in 1910 and rebuilt in 1990. Generations of Indian traders have sold their wares, from curry powders and spices to fresh fish and meat, jewellery and clothing, in its halls. Today it is a popular tourist attraction on a tour through Durban’s markets. Picture: Terry Haywood Photography

Historically, Grey Street can be compared to Sophiatown in Gauteng and District Six in Cape Town, with the crucial difference being that the area was not destroyed during the apartheid era and provides a glimpse of another time in South Africa’s development.

Today, the commercial divisions still hold relatively true though the clinical nature has been disturbed by the introduction of tenants retailing cheap Chinese imports. However, the Grey Street complex remains the teaming business and resident Indian sector for Durban’s central business district as well as the educational, cultural and business heart for its community.

The area took its old name from the main street, named after the British governor of the Cape, Sir George Grey. Under apartheid, the Indian business sector was restricted to streets away from the traditional white CBD.

Commercial property sales within the neighbourhood are uncommon as buildings are usually held in trust and passed down through the generations. In 2015 auctioneers In2Assets advertised it was selling “rare property opportunities in the Durban CBD” when it was entrusted with the sale of two properties on Dr Yusuf Dadoo Street. Located at 242/246 and 247 Dr Yusuf Dadoo Street, the properties had been held by the Porbandar Madressa Trust since 1955 and 1960, and were being sold only because the trust wanted to use the proceeds for a charity project.

The Porbandar Building offered the opportunity for redeveloping a busy arcade-type commercial building close to the Johannes Nkosi (Alice) Street taxi rank, while the Madressa Manzil building was a mixed-use property with 30 flats and 10 ground floor shops and the potential for long-term income streams for a savvy investor.

The Islamic architecture in the area speaks to Grey Street’s history. Picture: Terry Haywood Photography

Currently, other commercial opportunities include purchasing flats and residential blocks in the neighbourhood as the broader CBD accommodates a growing demand for tertiary and higher education.

The growth in these institutions now occupying the office space vacated by blue-chip companies that have moved north to the Umhlanga Ridge area has triggered demand for reasonably priced student accommodation nearby.

Typically sold privately via advertising platforms like Gumtree, these properties provide incentives for business people seeking passive income streams. Listed recently is a one-bedroom flat for sale for R495000. The property is located on the corner of Grey and Beatrice streets.

Statistics released by Property24 for the year to March 2018 reflect that the average price achieved for commercial property sales within the Grey Street area is R15.8million, and that 152 sales were concluded in the year.

Growing new leaders among clothing and textile businesses

The Kingsgate Clothing Group

Established in 1955 by the late AM Moolla and late AS Vahed, the Kingsgate Clothing Group has played an integral part in South Africa’s clothing and textile industry. Despite prejudice during the apartheid era, the company has evolved into one of the country’s leading privately-owned clothing manufacturers. 

Famous Bassa Décor Fabrics

The long-standing fabric store, one of numerous outlets of its kind occupying the shops in the Grey Street area, sells a wide range of fabrics, catering and décor items, bed linings, towels, curtaining and haberdashery to suit tastes from traditional to modern contemporary.

Most shops and buildings in the busy Grey Street area are owned by Indian South Africans. The oldest mosque in the southern hemisphere is situated in the district. Picture: Terry Haywood Photography

Islamic Propagation Centre International

The Islamic Propagation Centre International was established by Sheikh Ahmed Deedat to spread the message of Islam and how it can be understood in the modern world. Among its numerous functions, the centre has founded training programmes and created conditions within its organisation from which new generations of leaders can emerge. 

Jolly Grubber 

The local restaurant chain provides fast-food options to lower income patrons with its menu including Vienna sausages, chicken, tikka, kebabs and pizzas.

Advantages of living and working here

Central business district

The neighbourhood borders the traditional Durban CBD that today houses a vast array of tertiary education institutions, technical colleges and small and medium sized commercial businesses that have taken up the office space vacated by blue-chip companies relocating to Umhlanga. 

Transport accessibility

Forming part of the busy city life, transport options into the Grey Street zone are vast and include both public transport options and private transport with parking facilities. 

Development and revamping opportunities 

The Inner City Thekwini Regeneration and Urban Management Programme initiative aims to regenerate the inner city, placing strategic value on maximising multiple opportunities.

The programme’s key outcomes include increasing economic activity, reducing poverty and social isolation, making the inner city more viable, promoting effective and sustainable urban management, improving safety and security and developing institutional capacity. 

The Grey Street neighbourhood falls within this ambit, providing commercial opportunities for revamping and redeveloping the buildings. 

The scene outside Woza Fashion captures the vibrancy of Grey Street’s commercial operations. Picture: Terry Haywood Photography

Mixed-use buildings

The traditional building design for commercial activities to happen on the ground floor level and residential properties to occupy the first and second floors still holds true in the Grey Street area. 

This enables people to live and work within the same environment. A sense of community The area’s long history provides a sense of community for the generations of founding families living in the neighbourhood, long after opportunities for relocating arrived.

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