||In your article ‘Dreams of making fond memories’ Municipal Manager Mike Sutcliffe speaks eloquently of his vision of the future beachfront (Sunday Tribune 28 November 2004). The next day Mayor Obed Mlaba was quoted as saying that “the human and natural world around us … is a common resource – ‘not somebody’s private property’”.
But for many of us who use the beachfront our response to our city managers has to be ‘Dream On’. Day after day we are confronted by projects which suggest that little attention is in fact being paid to the enormous challenges raised by the development of the beachfront as a public space. Instead the interests of the people of Durban as a whole are exploited by rather inept spin doctors who use such publicly positive words as ‘rejuvenation’ and ‘rehabilitation’ as a cover for private ‘profit’ and ‘appropriation’.
Let me take two examples of this from recent developments on the beachfront and Point area. Last month we read of the partnership between the eThekwini Municipality and Moreland to form the Point Development Company in order “to rejuvenate the long-depressed area” of the Point. (The Natal Mercury, 3 November 2004). The first phase is to build a R70 million ten-story block at the Point made up of 49 flats, starting at R1.6 million a flat (with jacuzzi) going up to R4million (also with jacuzzi). But to move the poor out and the rich in is no way to “rejuvenate” a “long-depressed area”. Apartheid justified such exclusion on grounds of race: the people of South Africa struggled to claim their heritage but now it appears only to remain excluded – no longer on grounds of race but on grounds of money. To justify a R1.6 million entry-point flat, with or without a jacuzzi, on grounds of social rejuvenation is an insult to the vast majority of South Africans.
And then there is the problem of what a ten-story block on the spit of land which is the Point might to do to the environment. Durban does not have a Table Mountain. Instead it has the Bluff - the mighty bush-covered dune which has created and protected the harbour around which Durban has grown. Despite one hundred and fifty years of urban and industrial encroachment the Bluff has kept its characteristic silhouette. It is as recognisable now as it is in the first engravings of Port Natal when it was not the Bluff, but isiBubulungu, the home of the amaThuli. The Bluff and Durban, esiBubulungu and eThekwini are synonymous – tied together by the history of the people of KwaZulu-Natal. So far this integrated view of our past has survived, the most recognizable symbol of the city. I doubt whether interruptions to our view of the Bluff is high on the list of concerns of those planning the luxury block on the Point, any more than are the feelings of the fishermen about to be turfed out of places they have used for recreation and for subsistence for generations. They are after all only local rate-payers, not the foreign-currency big spenders who those planning our lives find so attractive.
My final objection lies in what these flats are to be called – “Dolphin Whispers’. a name of such absurdity that the project deserves to be ruled out on grounds of biological impossibility alone.
Further north along the beach is the SunCoast Casino - another example of the retreat from public values into the world of private vice. The gambling industry is founded on the principle that those who gamble lose. It attracts, not only those for whom spending money is a game but also, tragically, those for whom the possession of ready cash can be a matter of life and death. It is the very opposite of the idea of democratic economic development.
Between the SunCoast gambling den and the beach there is a narrow dune. While SunCoast was being built we were kept out because ‘dune rehabilitation’ was in progress. The keep out signs are still there – but now there is a walkway giving access to the beach from the casino, via the dune. However, unless one is gambling it costs R5 to use it, because, the security guard told me, it was ‘private property’. I retreated to the notice board. Previously, I read, this stretch of beach was “denuded and degraded”. Now it is being rehabilitated by Tsogo Sun and eThekwini Municipality. In so doing they are serving both “mankind and humanity”, “indigenous animals and birds including endangered species”, protecting “infrastructure and development”. Sure enough parts of the dune are there, covered in vegetation and fenced in. But its summit, between the Casino and the beach, is grassed, mowed, and surmounted by a marquee as big as a circus tent. I believe this is encroachment on public land in the name of environmental rehabilitation. Rumour has it that “arm-wrestling championships” were held here last weekend. I hope this didn’t disturb the indigenous animals and birds as much as it did this member of mankind and humanity.
The essential problem is privatisation. Capital can talk of “sharing” and “opportunities”, “rejuvenation” and “rehabilitation” but this is spin: the conscious attempt to make the search for private profit appear as a contribution to the public good. I believe that we are being conned. In the name of social welfare, upliftment and development the beachfront, this great public space, is being privatized, piece by piece, by corporate interests – confident in the belief that public relations combined with public indifference will allow them to say and to do what they want with our inheritance.
University of KwaZulu-Natal
29 November 2004