Durban — Curries Fountain turns 100 in November, and plans are under way to mark this momentous occasion.
The iconic stadium just outside the Durban city centre has played host to many historic events over the past century; from union gatherings to political rallies, multiracial sports meetings and even cultural events.
Some notable events at Curries, according to various history sites, include the visit of Chief Scout Lord Robert Baden-Powell in 1936 and a parade when the British royal family visited Durban in 1947. In the 1990s when liberation organisations were unbanned, they used Curries Fountain as a base and many political leaders were welcomed home from exile at Curries.
However, it’s best known for bringing together people of colour when they were not allowed to gather anywhere else.
The community work continued to this day, according to Ronnie Govender from the Curries Fountain Sports Development Centre Management.
“It’s a unique venue because everything happened here.
“In the bad old days the police used to come in here, stop activities and arrest people because the administrators at the time took a stand for non-racialism,” said Govender.
Today it’s still a hub for development activities and there are plans for a bigger museum and a sports library, besides the other work that they do.
However, their main focus is to promote sport development in a different way than it is currently being done.
“Very little is happening where people live, especially in areas where they were deprived of opportunities in the past.
“The worst thing is that I think we don’t understand sports development in the South African context. It has a long history. Even social cohesion can never happen if they don’t understand non-racialism. In any sector, social cohesion is not getting the result it should because people don’t understand non-racialism,” he said.
Govender said all their programmes were long-term, like the football programmes and even the soccer programme for elderly women.
Also in the pipeline is a new body known as Friends of Curries, and last month its draft constitution was released for public comment, said Govender.
The draft constitution states that its aim is to work with other bodies for the benefit of the public, with special attention to the marginalised, to protect and advance Curries as a heritage site, a place for the citizens and a site for sports development and recreational use.
It also wants to promote wellness and ensure that all people have the opportunity to benefit from the amenity.
Last week the banners went up marking its century of existence.
Govender said the venue was fully booked to this day, for the stadium as well as its boardroom, which doubles up as a museum and where workshops and meetings can be held.
For those who may be wondering, he said that even though the stadium was initially run by the Indian community, that’s not how it got its name. Govender said the land used to belong to a councillor whose surname was Currie. There was a time when the city was desperately short of water. It was taken from a well on the land and that is how the “fountain” was added to the name Currie, and Curries Fountain was born.
Now, though, the land is leased from the eThekwini Municipality, and Curries Fountain is run by an independent board of directors.
Everyone has their own version of the significance of the venue. Back in the day, Curries Fountain was known as the “mecca of football”, according to veteran soccer player Vincent Pillay, who scored the first goal under the newly constituted multiracial Federation Professional League in July 1969.
Pillay, a teacher at the time, played for Verulam Suburbs football team.
“There were about 15 000 people jam-packed into Curries Fountain. Being the first game of the new professional league, it was buzzing because we were representing the whole of Durban and North Coast and yet we were playing against a star-studded Transvaal United team. The game ended in a pulsating 3-3 draw and it was very fitting for that occasion as well: there were no winners and no losers.”
Pillay, who played on the right wing, said that although it was a professional league, all the players had jobs, and matches were played on weekends and Wednesday evenings.
“The only people missing were Europeans. Coloured people were in the team, blacks were in the team and Indians. It was non-racial football, that’s what we were fighting for at that time,” he said.
He said while matches were played at Curries, the teams didn’t have proper training facilities and would train wherever they could find a patch of grass just to get fit.
“In those days I used to get paid R8 for a win, R6 for a draw and R4 if we lost a game, but half the time we were not even paid because money was so tight those days,” said Pillay.
While South Africa is now a democracy, Curries Fountain continues to be as busy as ever. The stadium and boardroom are booked out months in advance.
Plans for its centenary celebrations will be made public in due course.
Independent on Saturday