The iconic Musgrave Shopping Centre in Durban—one of the oldest shopping malls in South Africa—has reached a significant milestone in its multi-million rand redevelopment. The country’s biggest retailer has opened an “emporium” on its fourth floor.

Musgrave Centre, in its original form, was the first suburban shopping centre in Durban. It was constructed in the late 1950s and has undergone various revamps over the years, including a R140 million makeover in 2010.

The 40,000 square metre mall is currently valued at R980 million, having been valued at R1.13 billion prior to the Covid-19 pandemic and subsequent retail crash.

Current property owners, SA Corporate Real Estate Fund (SACREF), have been working on a “reinvigoration” project at the centre over the past few years to unlock value and boost the mall as a key shopping destination in the area.

The initiatives to energise the centre with new offerings commenced in February 2021 with the inclusion of Food Lover’s Market and Dis-Chem.

The latest revamp focuses on the fourth level of the centre, where the cinema space formerly occupied by Ster Kinekor has been replaced with a “Checkers Emporium” featuring a high-end Checkers Fresh X, Checkers Pet and Checkers Liquor.

Image: Musgrave Centre, UKZN Architecture Library via Facts About Durban
Image: Modern Musgrave Shopping Centre, via Musgrave Centre Facebook

“This will bring new shoppers, increase our footfall and give shoppers a variety of different supermarkets, with Food Lovers Market, Pick n Pay and Checkers all under one roof,” the group said.

The refurbishment of the emporium is now complete, with Shoprite Group announcing the opening of its stores this week.

Image: Musgrave Centre refurbishment, Musgrave Centre Facebook
Image: Opening of Checkers Musgrave, Shoprite Group

SACREF has also installed the first padel courts in KwaZulu Natal at the mall, which opened in 2023, to generate alternative income while the refurbishment took place.

“These proved massively popular and have since been installed at other shopping centres due to the demand. Various opportunities are being explored for the 6,200m2 office block above Musgrave Shopping Centre to unlock value,” it said.

The office space above the Musgrave Shopping Centre is earmarked for conversion into residential apartments on a phased basis.

Image: Musgrave Centre Padel courts, Musgrave Centre Facebook

Shopping malls in South Africa are under strain as vacancy rates remain problematic as trading density for prime retail space declines.

Retailers have been under pressure over the last few years as consumers remain financially constrained and have become more discerning about where they spend their time and money.

This is due to both persistently high interest rates (currently stuck at a 15-year high) and high levels of inflation which have eaten away at salaries in real terms, cutting disposable income.

According to the Clur Shopping Centre Index, trading density levels dropped further in Q1 2024, even if the rate of contraction was more muted than the final half of 2023.

However, mid-sized centres, such as the Musgrave Centre, should be primed to take advantage of a shift in shopper behaviour, Clur said, by embracing a “lifestyle stance, with a focus on balance, health, wellness and zen-seeking”.

Despite consumer stress and retailer pain, South Africa has not slowed down on the developments and redevelopment of shopping malls and centres – though there has been a notable shift to smaller ‘strip mall’ and lifestyle centre developments.

Meanwhile, some of the bigger malls in the country have been changing hands, with some in even greater financial stress.