Durban communities face harbour ‘creep’

Sometimes the trash includes faeces in plastic bags owing to the lack of proper sewerage systems in the area. Water surrounds some of these rubbish piles, creating pools for disease to breed in.

Dogs wander around feeding off the refuse as drug dealers and sex workers walk the streets,  looking to make some money.

Next door to pleasant-looking residential homes sit truck yards, some housing as many as 10 trucks. Truckers sit around in the yards waiting to ship out.

The roads are filled with potholes caused by the heavily loaded trucks traversing on these streets, built for residential vehicles.

Most of these are signs of port creep; or the arrival of crime, smuggling, prostitution, trucks, pollution and logistics companies in the neighbourhood, because of the suburb's proximity to the back of a port.

The city now plans to rezone Clairwood for "logistics" and residents are outraged at the lack of consultation. Throughout the past century, South Durban became a hub for Durban's industrial sector with hazardous petrochemical and paper companies moving in next door to Durban's poor, working-class communities in suburbs such as Isipingo Beach, Merewent, Austerville, Merebank, Treasure Beach, Wentworth, Jacobs, the Bluff, Umbilo and Clairwood.

The pollution from these industries has ravaged South Durban. Some schools in the area are reporting 52% asthma rates, and recent news reports suggest that nearby rivers are so contaminated with certain chemicals that higher readings have not been recorded anywhere else in the world.

"Historically, south of Umbilo River has been a free-for-all," said environmentalist Bobby Peek from groundWork, who works with the South Durban community fighting heavy polluters.

Now these already rundown communities are under threat once again and this time the threat, as they see it, comes from the eThekwini Municipality and Transnet's plans to expand the existing port and build a new port where the old airport land is, at Reunion in the south of Durban.

"The city has purposefully allowed Clairwood to degenerate into this hell hole," said Peek.

The Mail & Guardian heard this argument repeatedly from local residents in Clairwood.

Their argument goes something like this – the city knew it was going to need more land in Clairwood for port logistics so has knowingly allowed Clairwood to deteriorate, failing to respond to crime, to police illegal trucking companies setting up in the neighbourhood or to maintain or upgrade buildings in the suburb.

However, it is not just Clairwood that is up in arms. Community leaders from all the major South Durban suburbs have started creating awareness of the port plans in their communities and are working with environmental groups and civil society to organise community meetings.

At one such meeting in Umbilo a few weeks ago, the high level of anger from community members was evident. Key issues they are complaining about are the city's lack of consultation, the increase in trucking in the area and the pollution that affects the community.

On the city's consultation process, community meeting participants complained that documents were left in their mailboxes only a day before the meeting and that English-speaking households got isiZulu documents or vice versa.

Another problem highlighted was trucking. The point made at the meeting was that, according to the city, there were 7 379 accidents involving trucks on municipal land last year, which resulted in 72 deaths and 210 injuries. On April 21 this year more than 400 South Durban residents occupied Solomon Mahlangu Drive, which joins Umbilo to the Bluff, to protest against the number of trucking-related deaths.

A poignant moment occurred when a community leader asked the hall of about 100 people whether anyone had a family member or friend who had cancer or a breathing complaint in the past year.

More than a third of the hall raised their hands, bringing home the reality of the health issues these communities face.

The previous day the M&G had visited farmers in Isipingo, who have been leasing some of the old airport land  for farming since the 1980s.

Sixteen farmers and hundreds of labourers have been working the 187 hectares of land for almost 20 years. They are major suppliers of cheap fruits, vegetables and flowers to the South Durban community.

Port plans
This land will be reappropriated by the city for the new dug-out port and, naturally, the farmers are concerned.

Sarojini Devi, one of the farmers, said the city hasn't even spoken to the farmers about what will happen with the land; they only read about the port plans in the paper.

"We won't survive without our land," said Devi.

Durban's large subsistence fishing community is also concerned about how they will be affected by the port plans.

Essop Pahad, the KwaZulu-Natal Subsistence Fishermen Association's chairperson, said the association is already taking the city to court over access to South Pier.

According to Pahad, the beachfront was closed to fisherman before the 2010 World Cup when the renovation of the beachfront was being completed and has never been opened to them again.

On April 27 this year 300 fishermen occupied South Pier to protest and the police arrived to break it up.

Pahad said members of the association are concerned about how the new dug-out port will limit access to key fishing spots such as Isipingo Beach and the Cutting.

"Everything revolves around money," said Pahad. "They are not interested in people and their livelihoods."

Despite the choppy water, development plans are cruising along at a rate of knots, say Transnet and eThekwini municipality

Transnet Responds

  • On the port expansion: Transnet is making substantial investments to improve efficiency in the port of Durban, including the purchase and installation of new ship-to-shore cranes that operate at a better rate, as well as new straddle carriers and processes to improve operations within the port terminals.
  • Transnet is also redesigning and redeveloping the port for a more efficient layout. Current plans put the increase in container capacity in Durban at about six times the current port capacity over the next 30 to 40 years.
  • These plans are premised on Transnet's freight demand model, on which the company's long-term capacity and port development framework is based.
  • On the consultation process: It is important to distinguish between eThekwini's local area plan and Transnet's dug-out port projects, although the local area plan, the existing port of Durban and the dug-out port are inextricably linked (the local area plan provides for the back-of-ports logistics infrastructure for both the port of Durban and the dug-out port).
  • eThekwini has already begun stakeholder engagements with the South Basin stakeholders and Transnet will begin its stakeholder engagement process before the end of the year.
  • This process will be ongoing over a number of years and will at times be done in conjunction with eThekwini.
  • On environmental concerns: Transnet will, at a minimum, comply with all environmental regulations in respect of the development of the dug-out port and the environmental impact assessment process is planned to begin mid-2014.
  • On the Isipingo farmers: Transnet does not yet own the land described as the old airport site. This is being purchased from Airports Company South Africa and transfer of this land to Transnet is expected in the next few months.
  • Once Transnet owns this land, all tenants will be directly engaged in order to discuss their leases.
  • The development of the port will require for these tenant farmers to relocate. However, construction of the port is only set to begin in 2016 so the requirement for these farmers to relocate is not an immediate one.
  • On the subsistence fishermen: Based on the conceptual layout of the entrance channel, access will be restricted to the area north of the Isipingo mouth up to the canal at the Sapref crude oil refinery.
  • It is envisaged that the Cuttings Beach area north and south of the "Umlaas canal" will be unaffected in terms of access to fishing and recreation.

eThekwini municipality responds

  • On trucking increases: Possible solutions include dedicated freight routes, which reduce the heavy vehicle-private vehicle conflict as well as the pedestrian conflict. These dedicated routes will reduce speed and maneuverability variability, which should reduce accidents, congestion and related pollution.
  • On environmental concerns: The independent environmental assessment practitioner is finalising the report for the port expansion, which will be available for public review in October.
  • On Clairwood: The city's proposal is to rezone Clairwood to "logistics".
  • Part of the participation plan is to establish how communities want to engage in the implementation of such a recommendation. Unfortunately, many people have been intimidated and are not even getting a chance to talk about how to implement or make meaningful contributions to the plan.
  • It is also important to recognise that more than 70% of the areas zoned as "residential" are not being used as such.
  • Every year, about 8% of existing residential areas are changed to business and industrial zones.
  • All heritage buildings and sites are to be preserved or managed in terms of the Heritage Act.
  • As above, community engagement failed to reach a point where proposals on how the remainder of the community can and should be accommodated.

Make sense of your world

Subscribe to Mail & Guardian at R10/mth for the first three months. Cancel anytime.

Subscribers get access to all our best journalism, subscriber-only newsletters, events and a weekly cryptic crossword.

Lloyd Gedye
Lloyd Gedye
Lloyd Gedye is a freelance journalist and one of the founders of The Con.

Related stories


Already a subscriber? Sign in here


Latest stories

EFF holds gun to the heads of metro coalitions

The Economic Freedom Fighters says it will flex its power if it doesn’t get a key Johannesburg committee seat

Raise domestic workers’ minimum wage to that of other workers,...

If a proposed minimum R23 an hour for all workers goes through, it will be the first time domestic workers are treated equally

Landmark battle over River Club imperils Amazon HQ plans

If the high court in Cape Town rules for an interim interdict in the River Club project to halt building on heritage land, Amazon is likely to pull out

What will it take to halt institutional decay and defend...

Selfless leaders and engaged citizens must protect their nations from seeping into failure during their transition to democracy

press releases

Loading latest Press Releases…