Fig trees growing on the clock tower of the Durban Post Office.
Fig trees growing on the clock tower of the Durban Post Office.

Rescue plan for Durban's Post Office building

By Tanya Waterworth Time of article published Mar 4, 2020

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Durban - A major refurbishment of the Durban Post Office is in the pipeline.

It has been earmarked as one of three smart offices nationally and the revamp will include 4IR technologies in the banking hall.

This came to light after the Independent on Saturday (on February 15) reported on the history of the Durban Post Office and its young architect, Philip Dudgeon, with a reader bringing our attention to the current state of the building.

The building’s neglected appearance includes fig trees growing out of the clock tower, storm damage to the roof, as well as vandalised fittings, trash piles behind the railings which surround the building and water stains in the interior, among other issues.

According to KZN Amafa and Research Institute (Amafa), the fig trees in the clock tower could result in massive damage to the entire tower.

Yesterday SA Post Office spokesperson Johan Kruger said: “The Durban Post Office building is due for a major refurbishment. The process was initiated last year when a specialist company was appointed to manage the entire process.

“A complete assessment of the site, including the clock tower, roof, banking hall, electricity and more, was concluded and presented to Sapo management. The green light has been given to consultants to initiate the tender process for the refurbishment.”

He added that the building “has been earmarked by the minister of communications as one of three smart offices nationally. During the total process, the Heritage Council is part and parcel of the project and will watch over the process up to the point of completion”.

He said a date for the start of the refurbishment had not yet been confirmed because “procurement procedures are quite lengthy in view of the regulations we have to comply with”.

Amafa head of built environment Ros Deveraux confirmed her organisation, architects and officials had toured the building in November.

“The Post Office had submitted an application for the repairs required following the storms in 2017, including the lifted roof sheets.

“This is a Grade II provincial landmark that requires the input from an architect who has extensive experience with such buildings, so Amafa required that the consultants bring in a heritage expert.

“That project seems to have been placed on hold while the Post Office has engaged other architects to deal with the refurbishment of the interior to bring it in line with a new branding that is being applied countrywide.”

She added that the Post Office and the municipality were aware of the much-needed maintenance to the building, with one of the risks to the building being the fig trees which have taken root in the tower.

She said the trees were likely to be progeny from another heritage site, the adjacent Medwood Gardens.

“The fig tree would not have been able to take hold had the building been maintained,” she said, adding that the trees could compromise the supports for the bells.

“Should these very compromised supports give way, the damage will be enormous,” said Deveraux.

While some maintenance issues require the approval of the heritage authority, according to Amafa, general maintenance such as cleaning gutters and downpipes, basic roof maintenance, removing pigeons and pigeon guano which can cause damage to stone, replacement of broken light fittings were required to be done by the owner of the heritage building as part of the general upkeep.

According to eThekwini Municipality, the building is owned by the Department of Public Works and would have been leased to the Post Office.

“Neglect of basic maintenance will lead to much more severe damage to the building,” Deveraux said, adding that Pietermaritzburg Post Office was suffering from similar neglect.

Designed by Dudgeon in 1882 as the city’s first Town Hall, the Durban Post Office building was finished in 1885.

The Independent on Saturday

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