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Friday Jul 20, 2012

Durban port plan worries residents

The looming construction of a multi-billion rand dig-out port at Durban's old airport site has ignited concern among south Durban residents who have expressed fear of forced removals to make way for the mega project.

Last month, the eThekwini municipality released its draft Back of Port Interface Local Area Plan for public consultation, part of its vision to develop Durban into a future "super port", with major expansions to the existing port.

About R100 billion is expected to be invested in developing the dig-out port.

An emotionally charged group of residents told representatives from the provincial planning commission at the Austerville Hall yesterday that they had not been consulted about the plans to expand the port. They said the reality was that residents from Clairwood, Merebank, Isipingo, Austerville and Wentworth would be forcibly removed from their properties and "dumped" elsewhere.

Clairwood is likely be one of the main areas to be affected.

The Clairwood Ratepayers' Association has been vocal about there being no further industrial development in the area and is opposed to the development of the Clairwood Racecourse into a warehouse and distribution centre to service the dig-out port.

Residents yesterday shared their memories of being forcibly removed from their homes during apartheid and said they could not relive that painful experience 18 years after democracy.

Siga Govender, who owns a vegetable farm near the old airport site, said he feared the worst.

"I have not been consulted about the dig-out port. I don't know what my future is on the farm. That farm is my bread and butter. I have 20 labourers, some of whom live on the land. They have families too. What will happen to them if I'm forced to move?" he said.

Desmond D'Sa, of the South Durban Community Environmental Alliance, said it was important that residents understood the thinking behind the dig-out port.

"The reality is that any infrastructure of this huge nature will lead to people losing their homes. We need to be upfront about that... big projects that affect people's livelihood are being presented under the pretext of economic development," he said.

Lungile Bhengu-Baloyi, a commissioner with the provincial planning commission, said the commission would facilitate a platform for discussion between the city, Transnet and residents.

"We knew we were coming to a hot area.... But I am happy that people are very organised and vocal... the plan itself is about integrated development and bringing everybody together. The plan is beyond spatial development and town planning - there's (also) the emotional, social and spiritual elements that needs to be addressed," she said.

Transnet project director for the dig-out port, Marc Descoins, said the project was in the conceptual stage because construction would begin around 2016, but he said that he was not informed about the meeting at Austerville.

He said Transnet had approached stakeholders such as the KZN Growth Coalition, the provincial Economic Development Department and the Durban Chamber of Commerce and Industry.

Descoins said Transnet had purchased the Airports Company SA land and there was property around the area that had been earmarked, but none of it was residential property.

"The residential property is part of the spatial development plan by eThekwini and I know the city has started engaging with the South Durban residents around their plan...This is extremely sensitive and we understand the concerns raised by the south Durban residents. We cannot take a bulldozer approach," he added.

eThekwini deputy mayor and chairwoman of the economic development committee, Nomvusa Shabalala, said the city had no intention of forcibly removing anyone from their homes.

The Mercury

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