Category Archives: Bradley Hope

The National: ‘Memories of forced settlements’

‘Memories of forced settlements’

* Last Updated: December 20. 2008 6:37PM UAE / December 20. 2008 2:37PM GMT

A Dubai developer intent on building the largest entertainment destination in Africa is coming up against a surprisingly formidable opponent in the form of about 3,000 Zulu farmers.

Ruwaad Holdings, a subsidiary of Dubai 9 Group, unveiled at Cityscape Dubai in October its plans to build the massive Amazulu World project in South Africa. Flanked by a Zulu king and the premier of the KwaZulu-Natal province, officials from the company said the project to be an entertainment and leisure mini-city would take 25 years and cover a 16,500-hectare piece of coast. In typical Dubai fashion, the multibillion-dirham project would include a theme park, golf courses and a giant shopping mall. A 106-metre-high statue of the Zulu warrior, King Shaka, would loom above the site.

Just two months later, the ambitious project has had its first reality check. About 3,000 people calling themselves the eMacambini Anti-Removal Committee – named after the tribe that lives on the land – poured out of the province and blocked a major motorway between Durban and Richard’s Bay with burning tyres. Police broke up the protest with rubber bullets and mace when the protesters started hurling rocks at passing cars, according to local newspapers. Ten protesters were arrested and another eight were injured, according to the organisers.

“It is becoming a very big issue,” says Zakhele Ndlovu, a political science professor at the University of KwaZulu-Natal. “This is becoming one of the biggest land claim issues [in the province] since 1994,” he says, referring to the year Nelson Mandela was elected in the first democratic election in the country.

Rival political parties, religious groups and officials are already taking sides. At the heart of the dispute is the fate of those living on the land.

According to a proposal submitted by Ruwaad to the Ingonyama Trust – a government entity that owns the land where the proposed Amazulu World would be built – the company would uproot about 8,500 households and move them to a smaller area nearby.

This is where the challenges for the company begin, says Chris Aitken, the secretariat of the trust. Not only does the local government and Ruwaad have to convince each of those households to sign on to the project before it can lease the land, but it also has to get permission from households near the development, and the eMacambini traditional council.

“The thought of lots of people being forced to relocate brings up memories of forced settlements under the apartheid government,” says Mr Aitken. “That’s why we require written evidence that these families are in favour of a project like this.”
Most of the families are “subsistence farmers” who make their living growing sugar cane and maize, and rearing cattle, says Mr Aitken. Several of these key groups have come out against the project.

Khayelihle Mathaba, the tribal chief or “inkosi” of the eMacambini traditional council, says he has met Ruwaad representatives four times, but is still against the project.
“We cannot accept it because they are going to move people,” he says. “The situation that they want is abnormal to us… We have livestock and farms and they want to move us to a smaller place? Where are we going to live? What will happen to our schools?”

Makhosonke Ntuli, the chairman of the eMacambini Anti-Removal Committee, says another problem is that Zulus do not allow graves to be relocated. “As Zulus, it is part of our culture to treat graves as sacred,” he says. “You don’t go around and move bodies of people who have already been buried there.”

Ruwaad officials say the claims are misconstrued, and it is now up to the South African government to handle the process of convincing the local groups that the project will be beneficial.

“This would improve the livelihood of these people,” says Hayan Merchant, the group chief executive of Ruwaad. “We have left the social engagement process to the government. A few members of the community are misconstruing this project. There is a long history of these people opposing economic development initiatives… This project will improve the whole region.”

Mr Merchant denies that 8,500 people will be relocated, saying the number affected is still being calculated.

“You have to appreciate the fact that these households on the site aren’t permanent households,” he says. “These households are very temporary in nature. It’s not clear how many are actually shacks that are unoccupied.”

The area to which the residents will be moved will be outfitted with new houses, water and power facilities, as well as education centres and health clinics, he says.

Still, despite earlier confident claims about the venture, the provincial government now appears more cautious. At Cityscape, the premier of the province, Sibusiso Ndebele, said the project would “make South Africa a sustainable destination of choice and an economic hub that will boost trade, tourism and development for the entire African continent”.

Earlier this month, Logan Maistry, a spokesman for Mr Ndebele, said from Kenya that no deal had been struck yet.

“At the end of the day, we will make sure there is proper consultation with all the stakeholders,” Mr Maistry said. “We will only do what is in the best interest of the people.”

The eMacambini Anti-Removal Committee, while opposing the Ruwaad venture, is backing a separate plan by a Sharjah-based group to create a smaller sports and leisure complex on the same piece of land. Sports Cities International, which has proposed the Macambini Sports City development, is a subsidiary of the Bukhatir Group in Sharjah.

This would be a US$5bn (Dh18.4bn) development on 500ha of the coastline, with high-rise buildings, a shopping mall, five-star hotel, golf course and a stadium.
The fact that a local group supports one project and not the other comes down to “politics”, says Protas Madlala, a political observer and the chief executive of a business development centre in the area. “It’s a dormant rural area, but people see the commercial potential of it. There is going to be a stalemate for now because the development has become politicised. They will continue arguing about how it will be used.”

The KwaZulu-Natal province has been receiving increased interest from developers recently because the King Shaka Airport in Durban is nearing completion, says Mark Taylor, the group chief executive of a development company called eLan. The airport will be able to handle four million people a year.

“Everybody is keeping their fingers crossed that Ruwaad is still going to come,” says Mr Taylor, calling the project a likely economic boon to the region. “It would be really unfortunate if they pulled out. Land claims are a big issue here. It can take years sometimes.”

Bradley Hope

* Last Updated: December 06. 2008 11:43PM UAE / December 6. 2008 7:43PM GMT

Amazulu World will transform 16,500 hectares in South Africa. Courtesy Ruwaad

ABU DHABI // A Dubai developer’s plan to build one of the largest leisure and shopping centres in Africa faces protests from a community group that blocked a major motorway last week to demand the local government back out of the agreement.

The project in question is Amazulu World, a multibillion dirham development by Dubai-based Ruwaad Holding that would transform a 16,500-hectare area near the Thukela River in the KwaZulu-Natal province of South Africa into a major entertainment destination. It would have a theme park, golf courses and a giant shopping mall, as well as housing, health-care facilities, hotels and a 106-metre-high statue of a Zulu warrior king. South African media have estimated the cost of the 25-year project at more than 44 billion rand (Dh15.69bn).

The Ruwaad website said Amazulu World would be “the largest construction project ever undertaken in Africa” and would “provide a vibrant, harmonious and integrated ‘work-play-stay-live’ environment for local and international consumers, tenants and investors”. The company said it would create 200,000 jobs and a 40 per cent increase in tourism for the region.

That message has not resonated with farmers who live in the area, which is dotted with fishing huts, sugar cane fields, and small fruit and vegetable plots. Claiming the project would force them from their homeland, about 3,000 protesters blocked a motorway between Durban and Richard’s Bay with burning tyres and rocks on Thursday.

“We are very much concerned as locals about the manner in which this project is being pushed down our throats,” said Makhosonke Ntuli, the chairman of the eMacambini Anti-Removal Committee in South Africa. “We are not going to let them take away our land.”

Police broke up the march with rubber bullets and mace spray, according to accounts in several local newspapers. Mr Ntuli said today that 10 people were arrested and eight were injured.

The protest group had sent an ultimatum a week earlier to Sibusiso Ndebele, the premier of the province, demanding he rescind a memorandum of understanding he signed at Cityscape Dubai in October. At that event, Mr Ndebele was joined by Goodwill Zwelithini kaBhekuzulu, the king of the province. Both were guests of Ruwaad.

Hayan Merchant, the group chief executive of Ruwaad, said today that the project “is proceeding and has the blessings of the government”. Ruwaad is owned by the Dubai 9 Group, a holding company that also owns a signage company, the Emirates Neon Group, and a trading company, Toptronics.

“It is important to note that many people within the eMacambini community have already provided their support and understand all the project benefits,” he said. “However, it has also been observed that there are people in the eMacambini community who have indicated that they are very upset. We have brought this to the notice of the government who have informed us that they will continue to engage the community and continue to explain clearly all the benefits the project brings to the people of the community, to the KwaZulu-Natal province and to South Africa in general.”

At the centre of the dispute is a lack of clarity over the fates of the more than 10,000 families now living on the land.

Mr Ntuli said the community had been told that the entire population would be relocated to another area and have farmland reduced significantly.

“Nobody is talking to us, nobody is telling us exactly what is happening,” he said. “All we know is that they are preparing to take our land… If they succeed, our way of living will be completely destroyed.”

But Mr Merchant said this was incorrect. “There is no plan of removing the people and taking them to some area far away or to a different land,” he said, without giving details of the plan for residents.

Officials from the government of the KwaZulu-Natal province could not be reached for comment. A spokesman for the premier said only that meetings were planned to deal with the situation.

The eMacambini Anti-Removal Committee, while opposing the Ruwaad venture, is backing a separate plan by a Sharjah-based group to create a sports and leisure complex in the same vicinity.

Sports Cities International, which has proposed the Macambini Sports City development, is a subsidiary of the Bukhatir Group in Sharjah.

This would be a US$5bn (Dh18.4bn) development on 500 hectares of the coastline with high-rise buildings, a shopping mall, a five-star hotel, a golf course and a stadium.