/ 30 August 2023

Twenty years later, Anant Singh’s R7.5bn Durban film studio may finally be built

Film producer Anant Singh.
Film producer Anant Singh. (Gallo)

South African filmmaker Anant Singh’s R7.5 billion investment into a film studio, on the cards for 20 years, appears to have been made a priority for the eThekwini metro and the department of trade and industry.

The studio was to have been built on the old Natal Command site on the Durban beachfront, and has been delayed for two decades by court battles and red tape regarding approval for the development.

It was one of several issues raised at a meeting with Minister of Trade, Industry and Competition Ebrahim Patel hosted by the Durban Chamber of Commerce and Industry on Monday night and attended by about 200 business people. 

Patel spoke about the strong interest global business investors had shown in the country during the Brics summit last week.

But Singh raised concern about the slow pace of development in eThekwini municipality.  

“As a son of this city and province, I have always tried to develop, which we are very excited about, and we are meeting with the catalytic projects [a unit in eThekwini municipality] tomorrow but things move slower than anywhere else … we need pace,” Singh told Patel.

Other business leaders such as exporters and tourism operators raised concerns about electricity security, Transnet’s port congestion and poor rail services. 

They also expressed concern about the slow pace of rebuilding the city after the April 2022 floods, which claimed 459 lives and caused about R17 billion in damages to roads, water and sanitation infrastructure, houses and rail networks.

Sappi Southern Africa’s vice-president for supply chain, Morgan Moodley, said his company was struggling to get its products to export markets because of flood damaged rail infrastructure at Umkomaas.

“The challenges we currently face with the logistics infrastructure is getting all the export product out due to the degradation/washaway of the South Coast line, and we are told the line is only going to be operational in 2025, and that is putting huge pressure on the costs of business,” Moodley said.

Patel said he would facilitate a meeting between Durban business leaders and Transnet to discuss what the government was planning regarding transport and logistics, so that business could “fill the gaps” regarding any additional issues that need to be tackled.

Durban’s mayor, Mxolisi Kaunda, said the R102 provincial road near Umlazi would open next week and that the city had spent R15 million on it, alongside the province’s investment of R15 million.

Responding to Singh’s concerns, Patel said he was “pleased” that he had been “so persistent in the face of red tape” to attempt to develop the Durban studio.

“The city, the mayor is here, the province is here, let’s back the project to get that film facility off the ground as soon as possible because it’s not only the direct jobs alone that it creates, it is also the way in which Durban can land big movies and bring huge amounts of money and illustrate the city to the world. We all know Miami from the movies and we can turn Durban into that,” he said.

He said it would also allow people to tell their cultural stories, as the drama series Shaka Ilembe was already doing.

Singh purchased the 21 hectare Natal Command site through his company, Rinaldo Investments, for R15 million in 2003. The South African National Defence Force (SANDF) said at the time that it would vacate the property by 2009 but Giant Concerts owner Sunny Gayadin challenged the deal in court, claiming the land was worth at least R100 million.  

The matter dragged through the courts for almost 10 years before the constitutional court ruled that Gayadin had no legal standing to file the application.

According to court papers, the city bought the land in 1855 but donated it to the central government for military purposes in 1937, on condition that if it was not needed for military purposes, ownership would transfer back to the city.

In 2017, the SANDF attempted to lay claim to the property, saying it would need it in future to develop accommodation for its members combating piracy and other criminal activity in the Mozambique channel. 

Singh then filed and won his own application in the Durban high court in 2021 when Judge Mahendra Chetty ordered that the property be transferred to the city within 30 days, after which it must be transferred to Rinaldo.

Kaunda said the city would take action to remove the red tape for the film studio development.

“We want to turn the red tape into green tape. It should not take us three years to get the lines of the approvals within the city, so let us expedite it,” he said. “If we delay your investment, please be after us and we must change that mindset.”