From 1909 until the late 1960s Durban municipality held a monopoly on the production and sale of traditional African beer, called utshwala. Beerhalls were known informally as “eMatsheni”, or “the place of stones”, a name that originated from the large stones outside Durban railway station that African women sat on while selling beer, before the beer monopoly was introduced in 1908. The Victoria Street beerhall, built in 1909, was the first of many municipal beerhalls, occupied this site adjacent what was then called the ‘Indian Market’. Revenue from sales of beer in beerhalls funded a repressive system of social control for Africans. According to Act No. 23 of 1908, income from municipal beerhalls was used by the Native Administration Department to defray expenses incurred by the administration of the Act, and supposedly for “native welfare” or other interests of Africans residing in a town. In reality, for more than 70 years, income from the monopoly was spent on the establishment and maintenance of barracks, hostels, beerhalls and breweries, as well as subsiding the cost of policing the town. The area in front of the beerhall in Victoria Street market was also used by the municipal police as a holding area for people arrested during raids for “pass” law violations, before they were taken to the Central Prison.
As this “eMatsheni” and others were seen as central symbols of the Durban system and a means of limiting economic activity by African women, it was attacked during beerhall riots that took place in Durban during 1929 and 1959.