Mafika Mkhwanazi (left) Bern Martins Malusi Gigaba Mike Mabuyakhulu atOld airport PICTURE BONGANI MBATHA

Public Enterprises Minister Malusi Gigaba quietly met the South Durban community for the first time last week, with Transnet and city officials, to hear some of their grievances on the planned development of a R75 billion dig-out port at Durban’s old international airport site.

Speaking to The Mercury during the handover of the airport land from the Airports Company of SA (Acsa) to Transnet, Gigaba called on the community to support the project, promising “genuine consultation” with them before the massive infrastructure project was approved.

“The real consultation process with the community involving the three levels of government [the municipality, provincial and national government departments] will start as part of a comprehensive consultation plan from January next year,” he said.

“It is part of a plan to consult all the affected and interested communities along the Durban-Free State- Gauteng corridor, which has been earmarked for redevelopment into an integrated freight corridor link to the new dig-out port.

“I met representatives of the South Durban community on Wednesday night essentially as a first meet to hear what they had to say. It was talks about talks… We indicated to them that we will soon embark on a meaningful and genuine process to solicit their views. This is because it is important that our people are an integral part of this development.

“They need to understand the value of this investment and reap the socio-economic benefits associated with these projects. I am convinced, after spending two hours with the representatives of community organisations and other stakeholder and interested groups, that we will be able to reach compromises on the issues they have raised with us.”

Gigaba said the community had voiced displeasure at the manner in which consultations had taken place. They had expressed concerns about the environmental effects of the development, truck congestion and even possible prostitution.

Gigaba said their concerns would be addressed in a formal consultation process that would start next month.

Activist and co-ordinator of the South Durban Community Environmental Alliance, Desmond Dsa, said while he welcomed what the minister said about consultation, he awaited details.

“I was at the meeting where the minister committed himself and the government to genuine consultation on the proposed dig-out port. He said the consultation process would start from scratch from January next year and we will have to see if this in fact does happen,” he said.

“We want to hold Gigaba to his words, but if genuine consultation does not happen and the project is forced on us then we will fight it to the end.”

Dsa said part of consultation was first to ask if the dig-out port was even needed, considering investments by Transnet in “white elephant” developments such as the Coega port and Industrial Development Zone.

“How sincere the minister really is will be revealed in the next few months as more details about the project and the consultation process come out. We want an open and transparent process where the community’s needs are taken into account and there is a bottom-up approach,” he said.

“We don’t think there is a need for a massive new port. If it is developed it will ultimately mean that people will have to move, with expropriation of land around the port for its development. The project is also not good in the context of climate change and the already high levels of pollution and truck congestion in the area.”

Gigaba, however, said there would be no forced removals. But he said the dig-out port was a major infrastructure project in the long-term economic interests of the country.

He said despite some negative consequences there would also be enormous benefits for surrounding communities in terms of jobs and new economic activity.

“The community needs to also realise that this mega project is bigger than them, it has positive economic implications for not just Durban… The dig-out port will have to happen, because ultimately it is strategically important for our country and southern Africa in terms of regional economic integration,” he said.

Transport Minister Ben Martins said Transnet paid Acsa R1.85bn for the 641-hectare airport site, with the dig-out port one of government’s biggest strategic infrastructure projects.

“The Department of Transport will now promulgate the Durban Dig-out Port in terms of the Ports Act of 2005. As required by the law, the department will undertake necessary consultations with the affected communities and the general public, before the port is promulgated,” he said.

Transnet Group chief executive Brian Molefe said the massive project would propel Durban and South Africa on to the international maritime map. The dig-out port would become the biggest port on the continent.

He said the first phase needed to be completed by 2020, as capacity at the current Durban port would run out by 2019. At current costs it was expected to cost R75bn.

The plan to build a super port with 16 container berths as well as about three for automotive cargo and a similar number for the oil industry will now come under public scrutiny in environmental and other regulatory processes.

Equally contentious are the “back-of-port” developments proposed by the city to redevelop the land between the old and new ports. These will be debated in the coming months and will feature prominently in these pages next year.