Natal Command

Swet deal, contaminated deal, suspicious deal, political deal – the R15-million sale of the prime Natal Command site has been called many things. Some would also, rightly, describe it as the buy of the century.

The sale of this 21-hectare site of prime beachfront, without a tender process and for an amount close to what the deposit should have been, astounded many ratepayers. It should have fetched R71 million at the time.

Two years ago the initial judge did not like the deal, ordering its reversal. Two higher courts later faulted this ruling because the company contesting it was not a Durban ratepayer, had no place challenging it, and did not have any serious commercial interest in the site.

The Constitutional Court’s decision last week left an extraordinary property transaction in place. It should not, in fact, be characterised as a deal. After all, a deal implies some satisfaction, at least, on both sides.

There is thus considerable pressure on the fortunate buyer, film-maker Anant Singh, to satisfy ratepayers that they have not been shortchanged.

The giveaway price is hinged on Singh creating film studios there, generating revenue and jobs for Durban. He has a Universal Studios in mind, a mix of film facilities and turbo-charged entertainment in a Disney-like theme park.

It will be the entrepreneur’s task to build a major drawcard to enhance the new, much improved beachfront. He dare not allow his development to go the same way as the Point precinct, which took decades to start and has so far failed to get anywhere near its potential.

Singh’s remarkable windfall is thus his burden: widespread incredulity at it forges an expectation of something truly great on the land between the Suncoast complex and the beachfront hotel and apartment strip.

If his vision and its implementation measure up, only then will the term “deal” be applicable.