eThekwini Municipality started the long-awaited demolition of derelict buildings in the Mahatma Gandhi precinct. Picture: African News Agency (ANA)

Durban – eThekwini Municipality has started demolishing the first of several derelict buildings set for destruction in the inner city and South Beach areas of Durban as part of an ambitious overall rejuvenation and upgrade project that will cost over a billion rand.

The regeneration has been on the cards for years as the buildings littering the areas – and the accompanying high crime rates – are a danger to residents and deter potential investors.

Prostitution, drug dealing and vagrancy are common in the areas identified.

A media briefing was held at a derelict building in the Mahatma Gandhi precinct just behind Addington Hospital on Friday morning to herald the start of the project.

The rejuvenation symbolically started with a single grader and expanded public works employees clearing the building precinct, which was flooded with needles, filthy clothing, rubble and rot. About 30 people were chased out of the building earlier in the morning, one of the supervisors told the African News Agency (ANA).

Acting eThekwini mayor Fawzia Peer said she was “elated” that the process had finally started and pre-empted questions about long delays by saying that building owners were “not coming on board”.

“There are lots of property owners that we can’t find, so the buildings become more derelict. The crime and grime increases. We are trying to refurbish some,” said Peer. 

“It is very sad that in this hard-earned democracy, property owners are not playing the game. We are not going to take nonsense from property owners who won’t come on board, our buildings have to be safe,” she said. 

The city’s manager in its building inspectorate unit, Daniels Pentasaib, said six buildings would be totally flattened and new residential blocks – including student residences – would be constructed.

“In the Mahatma Gandhi precinct, there are 33 buildings that need to be remedied. Out of the 33 buildings, another three will be added which are also in a dilapidated state. So essentially, by the end of next week, we should be sitting at about 36 buildings in the Mahatma Gandhi precinct,” said Pentasaib.

“In the inner city, we have 80 buildings on the list that we have identified, and we are slowly working towards getting those buildings rectified as well,” he said.

The municipality was intervening as far as it could – including through courts – with private owners to turn the buildings around,” he said.

As an example, at the Ronda Vista block, the courts appointed a judicial administrator a few years ago. Ronda Vista has commercial activity on the ground floor and flats above. The rejuvenation project started with fixing lifts and the interior of the building and will soon move to outside renovations.

Pentasaib said visible improvements should be seen within three to six months.

The city was also approaching the high court for buildings in Pickering Street that had dysfunctional body corporates and seeking the appointment of judicial administrators there, said Pentasaib.

African News Agency (ANA)