The arrival of Indians in Durban resulted in settlements in land space near their areas of employment. The Magazine Barracks was one such area that was occupied by these labourers for more than 80 years. This area included the land now occupied by the Durban Central Police Station, court and the Somtseu Road temple. It was situated at Argyle Road, Umgeni Road, Stanger Street and Brickhill Road.
The Barracks was formed in the year 1880, when a group of indentured Indian labourers were employed by the Durban city council. They were not sent to the sugar estates, but made to work as street sweepers, night soil removers and garden estates. Initially they were kept at the Tram Barracks in Point road and later they were moved to the Magazine Barracks. By the year 1966, more than 2000 families stayed in the Barracks. They lived in houses built of wood and iron and some in brick structures and shared water and toilets. The household heads worked for the municipality as labourers.
Soon a culture of their own was formed as a community and their own distinctive ways of living played a role in maintaining their strong culture and religion. In addition they got involved in sport activities and political struggles of that time. They joined the Natal Indian Congress as influenced by regular political figures that visited the Barracks regularly including Dr Monty Naicker.
Maintaining their culture
To maintain their culture, they held cultural activities such as the Thirukoothu or six foot dance festivals, engaged in religious debate and song and dance festivals, and sport activities. The most famous temple built was the Somtseu Road Temple. The land for the temple was bought from the municipality at the cost of 200 pounds by a group of Indian labourers in 1898. The temple became known as the Durban Hindu temple. The temple also served as a safe house for the market farmers who came from far places by horse and carts. The other temples formed were the Tamil Baptist Church, Somtseu Kovil and the Vishnu Temple.
The Magazine Barracks saw famous people in the music and sporting fields as well. The most famous sporting personality was Sam Ramsamy who was a swimmer and lifesaver and later became a teacher. In the 1900s, he became the head of the SA Olympic Committee. The political activists included Swaminathan Gounden who started the Young Communist League and the Red Rose Social Club, his brother RK Gounden was chairman of the Durban Indian Municipal Employee Society Dimes for 25 years. It then became known as the Durban Integrated Municipal Employees Society.
By 1914, the city council labelled the Magazine Barracks as not suitable for human habitation and had to be rehoused, but in 1948, when the Group Areas Act was implemented by the National Party, the residents were moved to Chatsworth, Phoenix and other areas in accordance with their race. The Barracks had by now made their own history. In the 1990s, the Magazine Barracks Remembrance Association was started to keep and maintain their history with residents still living.
By Yoveshine Pillay
Reference: The Post Newspaper. Page 16. Nov 2010.
*Note: One of our subscribers, Joe Nadar, who was born in the Magazine Barracks believes that the above article contains some inaccuracies. According to Nadar, the majority of the residents had moved out of the Barracks before 1966, with most of the people being relocated to Chatsworth Units 3a, 3b and 5 between 1964 and 1965. Nadar also points out that the Vishnu Temple was the most popular temple in the Barracks, not the Somtseu Road temple, with nearly all of the Tamil and Telegu speaking people of the Hindu faith attending the Vishnu Temple. The temple on Somtseu Road was called the ‘Kali Ma’ Temple by the people of Magazine Barracks and was attended by the Hindi speaking people who lived outside of the Barracks. The Tamil Bible College was a Christian Church near the Barracks, and was thus not normally attended by people of the Hindu faith.