DURBAN - THE termination of the leases for tenants at Virginia Airport was a well-thoughtout process with valid reasons behind it.
This is according to acting city manager Musa Mbhele, who addressed the matter during an executive committee meeting yesterday.
This is after the city was lambasted by councillors over the handling of the leases at the airport, which is earmarked for further development, and the apparent slow pace and lack of transparency regarding the city’s catalytic projects.
“We are aware of the Virginia Airport issue and concerns around it. I do know the rationale behind it. I am looking to ensure that the termination of leases does not have a negative impact on the city’s economic development,” Mbhele said.
He, however, did not reveal the details behind the lease terminations.
DA exco member Nicole Graham was far from impressed, insisting that there should be more transparency around the Virginia Airport development, including a more open public participation process.
She also questioned the timing of the termination of leases.
“The fact of the matter is that the city needs to have projects that will inject cash and create jobs within the immediate period because we have been in financial trouble long before the Covid-19 lockdown. It has taken too long for the airport development,” said Graham.
The DA also expressed its objection to the city issuing eviction notices to several operators at the airport, saying that the municipality had forged ahead with the plan to redevelop the site into a mixed-use property for some time.
According to the DA, the issuing of eviction notices had come as a surprise to the party as the development process, when it came into play, would have taken another 24 months to complete, meaning that the tenants could have still occupied the space in the meantime.
“It seems as though these eviction notices were only given to some operators who do not have current leases. The Virginia Airport, as it currently stands, is a massive economic hub for the city and a Durban North institution. EThekwini’s economy is currently severely compromised and needs all of the help it can get. These notices make absolutely no sense and were implemented by city officials taking advantage of the vacuum of committee meetings and ordinary council administration,” said the DA.
Economic Development committee chairperson Thanduxolo Sabelo, whose committee deals with major developments, refuted claims that something sinister was behind the termination of leases.
He told The Mercury that the tenants were well aware that time had elapsed on their leases.
“From where we stand everything has been done in accordance with the law, there is nothing wrong that the city has done on the matter of leases,” said Sabelo. In addition to this, he expressed the committee’s satisfaction with the pace at which the developments were moving, insisting that this was in line with the city’s timeline.
He insisted that the development earmarked for the airport site would elevate the city to greater heights, providing room for further investment, which would ensure that Durban achieves its ambition of being a world class African city. “The development of the airport and other projects will impact massively and generate much-needed jobs while contributing both to the city and the country’s Gross Domestic Product,” Sabelo concluded.
Exco members also insisted that they should be allowed to conduct inspections on the city projects, so that they carry out their oversight role, and not rely on reports from officials.