Harrismith - Intabazwe

Wits BAS(Hons) Research Project
Led by Melinda Silverman
with Catherine de Souza, Robyn Arnot,
Karabo Masia and Michelle Wecke

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This group and individual research project was focussed on the small town of Harrismith, half-way between Johannesburg and Durban. The purpose of the project was to research the diverse urban fabric of the town, to undertake an architectural audit of important buildings, and to script a general outline of the historical and contemporary forces that shape the town. The following text is an extract from the publication:

“The importance of Harrismith as an industrial centre has been acknowledged since 1912 when a commission was set up to investigate Harrismith’s industrial possibilities – 113 businesses had been recorded in the town in the previous year (Hawkins 1982: 236). Later in the century, in the 1980s Harrismith was proclaimed an industrial growth point and decentralisation incentives were instituted by the government to encourage the relocation of industry to the town (Entrepreneur 1984: 3). The continuing recognition of Harrismith’s invaluable position underlies its being chosen for the development of a new freight distribution hub, planned to ease pressure in Durban and City Deep in Johannesburg.

Today Harrismith continues to exploit the fact that large numbers of people move though it. With a large number of stop-over options for travellers, a dominance of transport-related businesses (fuel stations, auto spares shops, workshops etc), and their location predominantly on the western side of the town, towards the railway line and trucking route. Most of the town’s significant and branded formal retail and commercial activities are prominently located along Warden Street, the main route into town, petering out at the ends where residential uses take over. Commercial and retail functions are also found on Stuart Street (probably because the route into Harrismith from the north once met its north end) and on the cross streets of Bester, Southey and Piet Retief. Six sets of traffic lights operate in this zone, presumably as a result of the traffic activity generated by these land uses. The commercial/ retail network is abruptly halted by the moederkerk located on a block centred on Warden Street which cuts it awkwardly into two pieces, and forms a boundary of sorts beyond which retail does not appear. Echoing this close connection between retail and movement, informal trade has arisen in the streets above the taxi rank, exploiting a different market of travellers – mainly township commuters and truck drivers. Industry dominates in the south west beyond the edge of the street grid in an area called Hardustria, its position clearly determined by proximity to the movement corridors of the railway line and trucking route.”