Life in ’Coffin Court’

By Frank Chemaly Time of article published Aug 21, 2021

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The old picture this week is from local historian Gerald Buttigieg and was posted on Durban Down Memory Lane recently. It shows Flamingo Court, on Umbilo Road, the 13-storey, 200 unit block of flats built by the Durban Corporation as sub-economic accommodation. It was opened in 1968.

The first picture shows the building during construction, the second soon after, although some of the original scaffolding is still in place. It was the largest such Durban Corporation accommodation block built since Elwyn Court in Point Road.

Flamingo Court under construction.

It was built on a piece of ground that was vacant for many years and was used as a parking area for the Ideal Home Shows held in the Wool Brokers Federation Halls in the mid 50s and early 60s.

It overlooks the Queensmead Hockey stadium on one side and the harbour on the other. The Congella Power Station, or Old Smokey, was also visible until it was demolished in the late 70s.

While many on the Facebook page wrote about happy childhood memories of Flamingo Court, the building quickly developed a colourful reputation. One noted that there were “always some interesting characters at the bus stop in front of it”, while another said “we used to call it Cockroach Court”. It was also at one point known as “Coffin Court”, partly because the floor plan is coffin shaped, but also because in the 70s there were a number of prominent suicides from its upper floors.

Flamingo Court in Umbilo today. Picture: Shelley Kjonstad/African News Agency(ANA)

In the late 90s, the city sectionalised the building and sold the units to tenants, but its residents were unable to afford the levies required to keep the building in good repair. Its body corporate quickly fell into receivership with a prominent court case in 2015 forcing the city to restore water connections to the building, and write off arrears worth millions.

Our photographer Shelley Kjonstad’s picture taken from Umbilo Road last week shows a block to which time hasn’t been kind.

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