Ducking through the crowd at Friday’s first ‘bad building’ demolition on Rutherford Street in South Beach, squatters carry their belongings. Picture: Motshwari Mofokeng/African News Agency (ANA)
Durban - "There is a strong surge in interest in Durban beachfront property from international and local investors."

That was the word from Russell Curtis, of Durban Invest, who was at Friday’s first demolition of three “bad buildings”, marking the first steps in the city’s regeneration and urban renewal plan for the inner-city Mahatma Gandhi precinct.

The overhaul of the city will cost more than R1 billion.

“We have more investors than opportunities at the moment,” said Curtis, adding that international interest had come from the UK, Australia and the US.

“Excitingly, there is also a growing tide of South African investors and it is a new generation of investors.

“The private sector has seen the untapped potential and now that the city is responding that interest is accelerating,” he said.

Also at the demolition on Rutherford Street was Remax property associate Kendal Coward, who manages up to 80 buildings on the beachfront.

He said he had potential investors calling from as afar afield as Sweden and Monaco.

“The municipality is now involved and the spotlight is on Durban. In the South Beach area, prices are going up and catching up with North Beach,” said Coward.

The Mahatma Gandhi precinct, which is one block from Durban’s main beachfront, has been a notorious area for drug dens, crime and brothels for years.

The clean-up targets more than 30 buildings, such as the derelict Tong Lok and Rond Vista blocks, have been identified for demolition or refurbishing.

Overall 88 buildings across the inner city have been identified so far under the inner city rejuvenation project and eThekwini acting mayor Fawzia Peer said one of the key challenges was locating absent owners.

“As a result these buildings become more derelict. Crime and grime are so bad because people are invading these buildings,” she said.

Phillip Sithole, the deputy city manager and head of economic development and planning, added that “some of the buildings will be repurposed to accommodate the homeless and the poor”.

Chairman of the Urban Improvement Project (UIP) for South Beach, the CBD and the north-east business district of the city, Ebrahim Vadachia, sounded a word of caution, saying: “We are fully committed to working with all the roleplayers to make the city more attractive for investment opportunities, but it has to be addressed holistically to change the nature of the area.

“There has to be a sustainable action plan.”

The Durban Chamber of Commerce issued a statement late yesterday with CEO Palesa Phili saying they supported eThekwini’s rejuvenation project.

“This initiative as the inner-city’s facelift strategy is crucial to preserving Durban’s central business district as a critical economic hub.

“There is a need to ensure that Durban’s inner city is safe and secure, as well as a conducive environment for people to live, do business and visit, so making it more attractive to business and actively reverse trends such as businesses and ratepayers leaving the city centre,” said Phili.

During the demolition of the first house in Rutherford Street, a neighbour who did not wish to be named said she was happy the building was being destroyed because it was a haven for drug addicts and criminals.

“We always come across bank cards, ID documents and wallets and it’s clear they belong to victims of robbery by these guys who live here in this building,” the neighbour said.

Piles of used needles were scattered in the area.

The occupants of the abandoned buildings suddenly arrived as the demolition started and rapidly gathered their belongings and fled down the street.

Independent on Saturday