DURBAN movie mogul Anant Singh is still determined to develop a film studio on the old Natal Command site, but now it is going to take even longer than he imagined.
More than 10 years after he set his sights on creating a Durban Film City, he has just learned of another setback.
Although he won a protracted legal battle for the right to develop the project on the beachfront, he found out last night that the land has not even been transferred from the Department of Public Works to the eThekwini Municipality.
“It’s very disappointing that this has not happened yet, as it is delaying the development even further,” he said.
Singh – an award-winning producer who will learn today if his latest blockbuster, Mandela: Long Walk To Freedom, has earned an Oscar nomination – only heard of the hitch after the Daily News received a response from the eThekwini Municipality to questions about the progress of the planned studios.
Singh’s company, Rinaldo Investments (Pty) Ltd (the property arm of his Videovision film production company), struck a deal with the municipality back in 2003 to buy the land for R15m.
The bulk of the 21ha housed the headquarters of Natal Command for the SANDF, but included some municipal land.
The council acquired the SANDF portion in 1855 and transferred it to the central government in 1937 for military purposes, on condition that if it was no longer needed for defence reasons, it would revert to the municipality.
When Singh learned that the SANDF had decided to relocate Natal Command, he approached the council to buy the site for a movie studio, which was a project envisaged in the city’s own integrated development plan to boost economic development. The deal was approved by the council in early 2004 and supported by the province.
But an objection from Giant Concerts held up the process for years until Giant Concerts took the matter to the Constitutional Court, which found in Rinaldo’s favour. That decision, 15 months ago, cleared the way for Singh’s plan for Durban Film City to kick in.
The Daily News sent several queries to the city about the proposed development, including a question on how long it would take before the land could be transferred from the council to Singh’s company.
But a reply from municipal spokesman Thabo Mofokeng stated: “The Department of Public Works has not yet transferred the land to the Municipality.”
Singh described the lack of progress as “annoying”.
There was no reason the transfer to the council should not have happened, he felt.
“We have gone through a protracted legal process. We have got the Constitutional Court ruling in our favour… I remember having a meeting seven or eight years ago with the Public Works Department and the city and everything was agreed. This should have taken months, rather than years.”
The city spokesman also said: “The City Manager, Sibusiso Sithole, will be meeting with Anant Singh to look at his development proposals.”
Singh said his proposals had been filed with the municipality when it made its initial application “and over the years, we’ve engaged with the city about our vision”.
Given the 10-year passage of time, there would be some changes, “but the plan is still to have a film studio, related businesses and leisure activities on the site”.
It envisaged a hotel, which a Videovision spokesman said later had been a “requirement” of the city.
Singh said he was looking forward to having the meeting with the city manager “as we need to speed everything up”.
Durban was losing out on the lucrative movie business which would create many jobs, he said, pointing out that the Mandela film, shot mainly in Cape Town, had provided 10 000 people with work.
“Although most were temporary, some lasted for more than a year.”
A spokesman for the Public Works Department could not be reached for comment last night.
• The music from the Mandela movie – Ordinary Love by U2 – received an award for the best original song in a motion picture at this week’s Golden Globes in America. - Daily News