Tweaking Durban’s factory settings

The GEC Factory in Umbilo in the 1971 photograph.

The GEC Factory in Umbilo in the 1971 photograph.

Published Jun 24, 2023


Durban - The old picture this week comes from our archives and features the GEC Factory in Gale Street, today Magwaza Maphalala Street.

Published in the “Daily News” on August 13, 1971, the caption simply reads: “GEC’s Factory at the corner of Gale Street and Canberra Road ‒ one of the best sites in the area.” It does not explain the purpose of the feature or the picture, but was possibly punting the Congella area as good factory or warehousing sites.

Little is known of this building. It is not listed in the Artefacts, which records most of the city’s historic buildings, nor is it mentioned on the Facts About Durban website. The building certainly suggests it was built between the two world wars, which was when most of the Umbilo stretch of Durban behind the port was being developed commercially and industrially.

The factory at the corner of Gale Street (Magwaza Maphalala Street) and Canberra Road, is today a storage facility. Picture: Shelley Kjonstad African News Agency (ANA)

The building today, as Shelley Kjonstad’s picture shows, has had at least three storeys added to it, although the design and feel has been continued in the alterations. It is currently being used as a storage facility.

Further to our Then and Now of the Durban Yacht Mole last week, Chris Christensen of Assagay wrote to us with an update.

“The photo of the Durban bay slipway was taken in the early or mid-1940s not 1950,” he writes. “I could have been one of the youngsters in the photo as I spent more of my childhood at the bay than at school. As for the black wooden structure, it was known as the Black House and housed the racing rowing boats of the Natal University’s rowing club, the same type of craft as used in the Oxford Cambridge race that are called ‘shells’.”

Three weeks ago we published an old picture of WestPoint Flats on what is today Margaret Mncadi Avenue. Sandra York from Umbilo wrote in to correct that timeline.

“My father lived in the building WestPoint for a while and I visited him there in 1959. I was 17 at the time and I remember looking out the window onto the construction site of the Riviera Hotel, which was being built at the time, so WestPoint was already built, so it must have been built in the 1950s. I also remember the Riviera Hotel being a venue for evening dances,” she writes.

The Independent on Saturday