By Sana Ebrahim
Durban’s iconic Madressa Arcade building which forms part of the historic Grey Street Precinct has been sold to the Juma Masjid Trust which plans to breathe new life into the 92-year-old structure that could once again draw tourists to the area.
A historic sale agreement was recently concluded between the Juma Masjid Trust and the Porbandar Educational Trust – the original owners – who sold the arcade for R18million.
Plans are afoot to revamp and preserve the identity of Madressa Arcade by 2021, ahead of the 150th anniversary of historic Juma Masjid which has a history going back to 1891. The masjid, the largest in Southern Africa, is a series of interlinking buildings, arcades and corridors where religion, business and community co-exist in balance. Although, the arcade has lost its luster over the years, the Juma Masjid Trust plans to upgrade it to its former glory in the hope it would draw droves of local and foreign visitors back to the area.
The well-known Madressa Arcade was built in 1927 and has been a place of happy memories. Clothing stores, general dealers, watch repair stores, tea rooms and spice shops flourished in the vibrant CBD of the early years. The arcade which currently hosts 55 traders, was once the lifeblood of the inner city.
Trustee of the Porbandar Educational Trust, AB Moosa (jnr) said: “Madressa Arcade is owned by the Porbandar Educational Trust, a charitable trust co-founded and co-funded by my late great grandfather Moosa Hajee Cassim in 1891 and all the proceeds of which are mandated to be solely for education for the poorest of the poor.
“The Juma Masjid was also co-funded by my great grandfather Moosa Hajee Cassim and given to the community. Both properties are adjoining each other.
“My late grandfather AB Moosa snr. was a trustee of the Juma Masjid, and later my late father Moosa Moosa, were both long serving trustees of the Porbandar Educational Trust, both of whom played pivotal roles in growing and enhancing the trust.
“My two fellow trustees and I came to the decision that in order to optimise the ability for the educational trust to fulfill its mandate, it would be prudent to sell the property. We were delighted to finalise this with the Juma Masjid and for the envisaged plans they have for further development. For me because of the historical link with both properties through my paternal forebears, it was a wonderful feeling that the property was going back to its linked home so to speak.”
Dr AV Mahomed, the senior trustee of Juma Masjid Trust said: “Juma Masjid Trust has an established Waqf trust with the intention of upgrading the area in the CBD.”
“Plans are afoot to uplift the market and stalls of the arcade in three stages. A livelier general trading centre with enhanced security is envisaged, with the idea being not to displace the existing traders.”
Shabir Chohan (Chief Executive, Al Baraka Bank) says: “We are proud to have provided funding for the acquisition of the Madressa Arcade. The development will certainly be a catalyst for the regrowth of the central business district as this precinct remains steeped in history. The community continues to play a key role in the area and it would be tremendous to bring the arcade to its former glory.”
Satish Dhupelia, Community activist and former resident of the nearby Prince Edward Street (now named Dr Goonam St) said: “The Madressa Arcade has been an integral part of the colourful history and makeup of the city of Durban. Its recent sale must be viewed in a positive light as the planned rejuvenation of the arcade will bring more money and foot traffic into the inner city and hopefully will be the catalyst to rejuvenating the CBD as a vibrant shopping paradise it once was.”
“I have fond memories of the arcade, having grown up and lived in town for the first 42 years of my life, and I still walk through it at least once a month taking friends or visitors on a walkabout through town.”
Raymond Perrier, director of the Denis Hurley Centre, which is around the corner from the arcade said: “We are keen to continue working closely in partnership with the Juma Masjid to revitalise this wonderful area. This is the soul of Durban where different religious traditions have lived, worked and prayed side by side for over 100 years. The Denis Hurley Centre is the most recent addition to that distinguished history. It’s proven to be a safe space for suburban Durbanites to re-engage with the city.”