Videovision's chief executive, Anant Singh. Image: Supplied.

Durban - Durban’s hopes of having its own film studio at the Natal Command site will remain in the trenches because the SANDF has plans to do its own development there.

Movie mogul Anant Singh had planned to build a film studio on the 21-hectare site near the city’s beachfront for more than 16 years.

He bought the site for R15million in 2003 from eThekwini Municipality.

At the time, the SANDF had agreed to hand over control of the site back to the municipality.

However, this week, the SANDF’s inquiry into why its department had previously agreed to declare the site surplus to requirements and return control to the municipality, continued in Durban.

Colonel Parry Augus and Major Joseph Links were the two members of the board of inquiry who convened interviews at the Lord’s Ground Military Base on KE Masinga (Old Fort) Road.

The board’s work began in August, and had a stint in Durban during September when it questioned witnesses (staff members) who were in the mix when the decision to hand back the site was taken.

The board was expected to submit its findings and recommendations next month.

In a telephone conversation, Augus denied that they had met in Durban or the existence of the board.

But the Sunday Tribune had reliably learnt that in the 1990s, the SANDF commissioned an audit firm to execute a feasibility study on the sites it controlled.

After the report was completed, the SANDF decided to relinquish control of the Natal Command site and hand it back to the city.

During Lindiwe Sisulu’s tenure as SANDF minister, the fightback for the Natal Command site began. It was understood that the SANDF wanted to build a conference centre with accommodation for its own purposes.

SANDF spokesperson Brigadier General Mafi Mgobozi said: “We take note of the claims made by various parties in different platforms regarding the land property in Durban.

“The SANDF cannot comment on this matter as it is currently under judicial consideration and, therefore, prohibited from public discussion elsewhere as it is sub judice.”

Singh’s attempt to acquire the site had not been without challenges.

Pietermaritzburg businessman Sunny Gayadin, who had ambitions of his own, objected to the sale in a protracted legal battle. The now deceased Gayadin previously claimed that the R15m deal that Singh had struck with municipality was “not kosher”. Gayadin lost the fight in 2012 at the Constitutional Court.

The project continued to be a no-show thereafter, until September 2017 when it looked as if it hit a new dawn.

That was when the municipality gave Singh’s plans for the site the go-ahead, with the belief that the SANDF would also endorse the sale.

At the time, Singh billed the venture as the next best thing for Durban, and spoke of an economic boom, thousands of jobs and those in the movie industry preparing themselves for lights, camera and action.

Singh, who was currently overseas, confirmed that the project had been delayed due to the land not being transferred timeously.

“This is despite the site being officially handed back to the eThekwini Municipality on October 16, 2009, which was subsequently confirmed by the minister of defence (Sisulu) in response to questions in the National Council of Provinces on October 23, 2009. We don’t understand what issues the SANDF could have at this final stage,” said Singh.

He claimed to still have the full support of the municipality and that the project fitted perfectly into president Cyril Ramaphosa’s $100billion (R1.4trillion) investment drive.

“Property acquisition and development is a time-consuming process ­governed by numerous factors,” said Singh.

“That being said, we remain fully committed to seeing this R7.5bn project come to fruition as it will catalyse economic activity on an unprecedented level in Durban and KZN.”

Singh estimated that 17000 construction jobs would be created and an additional 4300 jobs when the development was fully operational.

He also raised the fact that the South African film industry was a significant contributor to the gross domestic product and generated almost R10bn in economic activity annually, yet Durban and KZN received less than 5% of the amount.

The municipality did not respond by the time of publication.

Sunday Tribune