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Friday Aug 10, 2012

Residents want to be heard over Durban port plans

Residents of the heavily industrialised south Durban suburbs have demanded more specific information on how their lives and communities would be altered by the multibillion-rand plan to create a new dig-out harbour and expanded industrial zone near the old international airport.

"We are not antidevelopment, but this new plan cannot come at the expense of our children and our health. There needs to be a balance between the human family and big business," was the plea yesterday to national and local government leaders from Wentworth resident and trade union leader Frank Alexander.

"We are in the valley of decisions at the moment, but if you do not involve us and respect our dignity, we will not participate," he said in reference to a public consultation process launched late last month by the eThekwini municipality.

Alexander was speaking at a community dialogue on air pollution and environmental rights organised by the SA Human Rights Commission at the John Dunn retirement home in Austerville.

He told the hearing, chaired by commissioner Janet Love, that he had learnt from past experience in south Durban that big business and petroleum refinery bosses "could not be reached on the basis of morality".

"We used to march on the refinery managers, but there was always a dictatorial relationship rather than one of reciprocity and equality," he said.

No amount of boardroom talk was likely to resolve the uncertainty on how the dig-out harbour proposal and industrial expansion in south Durban would alter people's lives.

"Perhaps we must use the language of the streets," said Alexander, suggesting that south Durban residents learn from the success of the broad-based alliance opposed to e-tolling in Gauteng.

Desmond D'Sa, coordinator of the South Durban Community Environmental Alliance, said it was clear that the dig-out harbour and the city's rezoning plans in several suburbs would lead to significant impacts on people, including the possible expropriation of homes, loss of residential property value, a massive increase in truck volumes and the degradation of the sense of place.

He said the city had arranged "stakeholder" meetings in Congella, Clairwood, Merewent, the Bluff, Isipingo, Jacobs and Merebank to outline its draft Back of Port Local Area Plan.

"But the documents they have given us at these meetings are written in a technical format which is difficult for ordinary people to understand. The documents we have been given are very slim… and they are not informed by the inputs of social scientists."

D'Sa said it was clear to him that the plans had been formulated more than a decade ago and the municipality was now asking residents to "rubberstamp" a plan that could involve relocation to other areas.

"They want to turn residential areas into industrial land and are saying that ‘sacrifices' will have to be made. Why are they only coming to us now and demanding our comments before August 30? That is less than 30 days to comment on something which will affect us for the rest of our lives.

"We want to ensure that our legal rights are protected. We are saying that the poorest and richest residents of all colours in this area need to come together for this major fight… and the government must hire a massive hall and come to hear what the people of south Durban think about the plans," said D'Sa.

Love, a former ANC underground activist and MP who now directs the Legal Resources Centre, told residents she had listened to their experiences of living with asthma and respiratory disease, and the apparent failure of certain industries to reduce chemical pollution.

"We know that your kids and grandkids are growing up in a part of the country where the quality of the air is compromised. Can we fix it? No. Can we draw attention to it? Yes we can, and yes we will."

The Mercury

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