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Durban - Rezoning Clairwood as part of plans to expand Durban port operations risked reigniting racial tensions.
Ashwin Desai, the noted social commentator, sounded this warning at a packed weekend meeting to discuss plans for the proposed development.
He said Indian homeowners in the area would be offered money for their property, while black people who lived in the informal settlements would be shipped off to a housing scheme – if there was enough room to accommodate them.
Desai said the municipality had failed to consult residents properly and its plan for the area, released late last month, was unclear on whether shack dwellers would be given new homes, potentially breeding resentment.
The meeting at the Clairwood Tamil Institute on Saturday left Clairwood residents with no concrete answers about the proposed developments.
The plan proposes clearing the suburb, while many factories near Durban harbour would be moved to make space for two multibillion-rand dig-out ports – one at the old airport, the other at Bayhead. This would accommodate a sixfold increase in container traffic.
Speaking to residents at the meeting were community activists, government and municipal officials and Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan.
“We’ve seen internationally with the Arab Spring [revolutionary wave of demonstrations in the Arab world] and rise of the Occupy Wall Street Movement [which began in 2011 when activists tackled issues of economic inequality, greed, corruption and undue influence of corporations on government] that inequality is a dangerous thing.
“In establishing these strategically important projects, we are seeking to address the imbalances of the past, which left us with a skewed economy,” said Gordhan.
He appealed to activists and residents to work with the government and while he accepted they might disagree at times, “all we ask is that you examine all the facts before you decide that this would be wholly bad”.
Desai, director of the Centre for Sociological Research at the University of Johannesburg, said the process was made impossible by city officials who expected Clairwood residents to comment on the 367-page document outlining the development without having had time to study it.
Last month, community representative Roland Parsotham told city officials and consultants that people in south Durban were not “idiots” and did not believe the municipality’s assurances that no one would be forcibly removed to make way for the harbour expansion plans.
The consultation meeting was called off after residents shouted down the facilitator and said they would not listen to official presentations until the city revealed its plans in full.
“This is not public participation at all,” said Desai.
He said that while economists were looking at economic development at a macro level, they were neglecting the more immediate picture.
“Livelihoods will be destroyed; the relocations will add to unemployment. The basic questions like how people will travel to work and how households will cope have not been addressed.”
The development risked re-igniting racial tensions, because Indian people in the area would be offered money for their property, while black people who lived in informal settlements would be shipped off to a housing scheme if there was room to accommodate them.
Professor Patrick Bond, director of the Centre for Civil Society at the University of KwaZulu-Natal, told the meeting that the plans compounded imbalances left by apartheid and recent municipal planning.
“It’s an almost maniacal style of planning – it does not take into account things like climate [change] or future uses. Look at the city’s other white elephants like the Moses Mabhida Stadium.”
He described as “insane” a proposal by the municipality to move more than 20 million containers, from 2 million now, without investing in rail to relieve congestion.
Bobby Peek of the NGO groundWork outlined the environmental concerns of the groups while Clairwood Ratepayers’ and Residents’ Association spokesman Mervyn Reddy presented a slide show on the area’s rich cultural heritage.
Mayor James Nxumalo pledged to meet representatives of the ratepayers’ association, civic groups and residents to reach a compromise.
“It is important to the leadership of the city that we listen to the concerns of all the people in all our wards. We have already been experiencing some service delivery protests, but by the end of this financial year [June 2013] we will meet with all of you to understand your issues better,” he said.
He said monthly meetings were needed.
“We don’t want a top-down approach. We want to clarify any concerns the community might have so that we can come to a solution that is acceptable to everybody.”
Clairwood Ratepayers Association chairman, Rishi Singh, hoped the mayor’s proposed open-door policy would yield a positive outcome. - Daily News