Angry Durban residents faced off with city officials at a public meeting over the future of the embattled suburb of Clairwood. Picture: The Mercury

Durban – Irate Clairwood residents, armed with bundles of research, faced off with city officials at a public meeting on the future of the embattled suburb on Wednesday night.

Clairwood is at the centre of an industrial boom with its streets, verges and public spaces wilting in the face of advancing business “development”.

The proposed Durban dig out port and expansion of back of port facilities brought the plight of Clairwood to the fore before the dig out port project was shelved amid a global slump in shipping revenue.

But at the public meeting Wednesday night – to which the city was invited to lay out its plan for the area – many residents said while for the most part, the area was zoned for residential use, it was overwhelmed by trucking companies and light industry.

They said this had resulted in the forced removals of families, more traffic accidents and pollution.

Representing the city, Shunnon Tulsiram, the head of eThekwini Municipality’s economic development and promotion arm, said those with their hands on the levers of power had to “find balance”.

“Our job is about creating employment. What is clear is that economic growth must not happen at the cost of the people,” he said.

Public relations officer for the Clairwood Ratepayers and Residents Association, Ravin Brijlal, said the municipality was trying to industrialise the area without the consent of those who lived there.

He said businesses were buying up the land piecemeal and getting around the zoning issue by applying for special consent permits.

Ratepayers association members said land zoned as SR400 – which, they say, has never been changed to industrial land – has for the past five years been gradually taken over by businesses.

“This is our heritage,” Brijlal said. “Our forefathers lived here, we’re second and third generation Clairwood residents”.

He said the area’s rich culture was at risk.

Ebrahim Cassim, 76, was born and grew up in Clairwood and he said the community felt neglected.

“This area was once so vibrant, but it has deteriorated into a slum,” he said.

The results of a study conducted by the South Durban Community Environmental Alliance titled “Mapping Perceptions of the Clairwood Business Community”, was presented on W night.

Among the findings were the following:

* Several local Clairwood businesses had been in operation for more than 20 years.

* The number of people employed by these businesses was between 3 000 and 12 000 and a large portion of workers were local.

* 79% of people felt their businesses would be threatened by the back of port plans (which provide additional infrastructure and warehousing for the Durban harbour).

Tulsiram said the city had a delicate balancing act between driving development and job creation and looking after the city’s people.

“We as government officials recognise that people out there want work. As responsible government officials we need to ensure there is a balance.”

Tulsiram said while the expansion of industry in the port basin was opposed by the Clairwood community, many drew their livelihoods from the economic prospects of the harbour.

“Unbeknown to many of you, your work is linked to what happens at the port. It would be wrong if I didn’t tell you that it’s an important part of the city.”

Community activist Desmond D’Sa said big business was destroying the community.

“About 30 companies just come up overnight even though the area is still zoned as residential land.”

He said community members last week held a fruitless meeting with Trade and Investment KwaZulu-Natal.

“(Representatives) couldn’t answer questions. They could not tell small business owners what would happen to their businesses.”

Community member Rishi Singh, who has been part of the residents’ association for 42 years, said selling off the residential land would kill the area’s rich heritage.

“Everything in the area – schools, temples, were built by the blood and sweat of our ancestors. It was a closely-knit area.”

The Clairwood Racecourse was sold to Johannesburg-based Capital Property Fund in 2012, to be developed into a logistics park. With work under way, the R3.5billion project will probably see an increase in heavy traffic.

The Mercury