A place like no other…

With trepidation, I stood outside the room. I had heard and read so much about this place that I was eager about what awaited me. You cannot live in Durban, or South Africa frankly, and not understand the magnanimity of this place – many threads woven together; different facets of life under a brutal system that came together so beautifully here.
I stepped into the room, and immediately felt as if I was there… at the infamous Curries Fountain located in the Warwick precinct. I could hear the chants of Amandla! from political activists in the 1980s. I could feel the excitement of watching Manning Rangers score a goal. I could see the magnificent crowds coming together to observe cultural events and play some music too. I felt as if I was truly a part of this vibrant era and I wanted to absorb every detail, every brilliant bit of this history.
The room I speak of houses the soon-to-be launched exhibition of Curries Fountain at the 1860 Heritage Centre. I am actively involved with the centre and so I got a preview ahead of the official opening. It is based on the in-depth and insightful research by Leonard Rosenberg, Sam Moodley and Goolam Vahed and skilfully curated by Selvan Naidoo. The former trio is also responsible for a book that was launched in 2014, titled Curries Fountain: Sport, Politics and Identity, which inspired the title of this exhibition. The book is part of the Research of Curries and Surroundings – ROCS – project undertaken by the Durban University of Technology. It is ground-breaking – being the first to document how Curries Fountain was a meeting place and a melting pot of activities for non-Whites. Ostracised but not obsolete; they stood together, they played together and they celebrated together. There was power in numbers. Many families have stories to tell, pictures to share and memories that will last a lifetime. The authors must be commended for being bold enough to capture and document the pivotal place Curries, as it is fondly called, occupies in South Africa’s history.
This exhibition is an extension of that ground-breaking legacy. Anyone who takes the time to view this exhibition will the thrust into the heart of this sporting, political and cultural mecca. It’s that engaging and absorbing.
Interestingly, many assume that the name Curries is linked to people of Indian-origin and their art of cooking curries. It is in fact named after Councillor HW Currie, who amid a drought in 1878 came up with the idea to build a well. And, with the water flowing from the well, the name Curries Fountain was born. However, I’d like to think of it as a precursor of things to come. And, that the literal meaning grew into something more symbolic. Like a curry, with mixed spices, Curries Fountain was a place for mixed activities and people of mixed races. Like a fountain, it flowed with strength, and it continues to flow with vivid re-collections today…
There are many giants of our political struggle and soccer legends that have a link to Curries. And there are many others who played a role, slightly away from the limelight and as supporters. I don’t want to single out names or events. I’m a lover of history but no historian. For me, the greatest part about Curries is that it belonged to everyone; the team spirit that prevailed reverberated long after people had left the grounds. And, it reverberates in the exhibition room.
This exhibition also has the ability to throw light on some hard truths that need to be spoken about in our democracy. Surely sport isn’t just about what happens on the field. Yes, there’s skill and expertise, but there’s also power and privilege that comes into play. The recent incident involving former Springbok-turned-analyst Ashwin Willemse on live television brings these issues into sharp focus.
And then there’s the political chessboard. Parties often make moves in their own interests, but what about working together for the people of our land? Is political solidarity, like seen at the many rallies at Curries, a thing of the past?
Some debates need to be re-ignited if we are to progress in the true sense of the word.
Intentionally, I have not shared any pictures of the exhibition here. You can thank me after you see the images yourself. No, I’m not being presumptuous, I’m preparing you to be amazed and awe-struck. I have no doubt that you will be able to identify with the exhibition.
There’s personal identity, community identity and a broader, shared South African identity. It’s about “I am because you are” – ubuntu.  Curries Fountain was trailblazing in this regard, as people were practising ubuntu on the ground, even before it became trendy.
More than anything else, this exhibition salutes the fighting spirit that helped overthrow apartheid. Instead of crumbling under a cruel regime, Curries Fountain is where true South Africans found the courage to conquer.

8 thoughts on “A place like no other…

  1. “Ostracised but not obsolete”
    What a powerful sentence to capture the resilience of this iconic sanctuary. Well written!

  2. Well written Maya, loved those contemporary juxtapositions against that place in time. This is the real ‘space of activation’ that the 1860 Heritage Centre hopes to become. These articles do great work in taking us there. Best wishes Selvan

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