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The Consequences Of Re-Zoning In Clairwood

  • 7 min read

Clairwood has a history in Durban. It represented a haven for the Indian families able to buy their freedom after years of indentured service on the sugar cane plantations of pre-democratic Kwazulu-Natal. What had become a typical suburban setting has deteriorated in recent years as shipping and logistics companies have moved in. The rapid industrialisation brought to Clairwood has left it dangerous and in a state of decay.

The influx of companies came about as part of an economic development plan intending to capitalise on Clairwood’s proximity to the harbour.  The development plan envisaged a process where central Clairwood would transform into a logistics hub, and set out the necessary steps to achieve this, but the reality is that logistics operators have been allowed to move into the neighbourhood unchecked. Companies seized the opportunity to conduct business from Clairwood and kickstarted the transition, paying little mind to due process. With the prerequisite steps contained in the development plan largely ignored, those that have remained in the residential parts of Clairwood have been left to fend for themselves. 

Before Clairwood became a hub for logistics companies the eThekwini Municipality commissioned a study to identify means of redeveloping the Durban South Basin. After the study, the Back of Port Concept, Framework, Precinct Plans and Zoning Framework Report otherwise known as the Back of Port Local Area Plan (LAP) was generated. In 2014, when the LAP was published, it recommended that the Clairwood area be rezoned from ‘residential’ to ‘industrial’ to better facilitate a transition toward a logistics hub. The factors motivating this transition were Clairwood’s proximity to the port of Durban and that rezoning Clairwood would make moving freight into and out of the port easier.

Two key requirements were recognised by the LAP as being crucial to the process of rezoning Clairwood. The first key requirement stems from the inadequacy of the existing road network for both present and future use. South Coast Road in particular was found to be the most stressed part of the system and generally operating beyond its capacity. To remedy this the LAP proposed strategic redevelopments of Clairwood that included: 

  • A new road layout, with wider roads and improved access to and from freight routes.
  • Upgrading traffic movement structures by widening major through routes and demarcating other roads as service roads within larger lots to accommodate a local logistics circulation system.
  • The overall redevelopment of Clairwood’s residential core to facilitate the circulation of trucks.

The second key requirement of the LAP for rezoning Clairwood is recognising that residents have a strong connection to the land and a stronger desire to remain there.  Whilst recommending against forced removals the LAP notes that, for Clairwood to transform into a logistics hub, residential properties will face either purchase or expropriation by the Municipality.

The plan recognised the importance of relocating residents in identified rezoning areas before proceeding with the transition. In reality, little progress has been made towards this requirement. Residents who have not left of their own accord remain interspersed between industrial sites, rendering their residency untenable and unsafe. Instead of the Municipality engaging these residents, they have been forgotten. Since the LAP’s adoption eight years ago, the number of residential properties bought or leased by logistics businesses in Clairwood has grown exponentially. The eThekwini Municipality has processed a multitude of rezoning applications made by the landowners who occupy residential properties for industrial use. A pattern of ‘rezoning-after-the-fact’ emerges, regularising properties despite their illegal use. The redevelopment has occurred by default, brought on by business owners refusing to wait for upgraded roads and formal rezoning to begin and a Municipality that has seemingly prioritised the industrialisation of Clairwood over due process.

The primary legislation applicable to spatial planning and development is the Spatial Planning and Land Use Management Act 16 of 2013 (SPLUMA) which provides: 

‘Our environment should be protected for the benefit of present and future generations through reasonable legislative measures that include a land use planning system protective toward the environment.’  

SPLUMA gives effect to the Constitution which entrenches the right of everyone to an environment that is not detrimental to their health or well-being. When the two Acts are read together they advocate for spatial planning that:

  • Requires uniform and effective systems of land use management
  • Promotes social and economic inclusion
  • Is developed to provide sustainable and efficient use of land
  • Is coherent and planned
  • Includes policies and strategies devised for mitigating risks

SPLUMA places an obligation on the three spheres of government to prepare what is known as a Spatial Development Framework (SDF). The SDF coordinates the municipality’s efforts in  effecting development plans and policies within the municipal area. Further, the Municipality must prepare a Land Use Scheme (LUS) consistent with the SDF and, once approved and adopted, the LUS has the force of law and replaces all prior schemes in existence within its municipal area of application,  further providing for land use and development rights. 

The LUS adopted in respect of Clairwood contained provisions that set out to use, provide, and preserve land and buildings for residential purposes in respect of the special residential 400, which consists of the central portion of Clairwood, reserved for immovable properties that remain zoned as residential. This was intended so Clairwood could retain a familiar character to its residents while granting them, together with businesses, adequate space to co-exist. As a result, most Clairwood properties remain zoned as special residential and residents have been forced to band together to preserve the porous remains of their community.

The onslaught of trucking activities in Clairwood has created frustration and havoc for residents and pedestrians alike. On most days, residents cannot access their driveways due to the overwhelming presence of trucks which regard pavements as their parking bays. Residents state that the pavements in Clairwood have become ‘non-existent’ and, as a result, everyone who traverses Clairwood must walk on what remains of its roads. The general state of Clairwood is best described as decrepit. Stormwater drains are clogged by the remnants of crushed pavements resulting in poor drainage. Electricity is placed in short supply as trucks often uproot light poles when reversing causing widespread and lengthy blackouts. Onlookers will note that the area lacks critical road infrastructure such as road signs and traffic robots.  Residents have attributed the loss of life on Clairwood roads in recent years to the state of their roads.

In 1946 the Clairwood Resident and Ratepayer Association (CRRA) was formed to foster civic consciousness among residents, promote their interests, make representations, and enter into arrangements with spheres of government whilst undertaking anything incidental and necessary to attain these aims and objectives. Seventy-six years after its inception, the CRRA now fights tirelessly against logistics operators and the Municipality to ensure that the development of their community takes place in a dignified manner and in accordance with spatial planning law. 

The CRRA approached the Durban High Court for relief, seeking an order that the Municipality suspend the processing of all rezoning applications for want of compliance with redevelopment regulations in respect of those properties zoned as special residential until the traffic study envisaged in the LAP is conducted.  Additionally, the CRRA asked the court to declare that the municipality has failed Clairwood residents under the duties imposed on it by section 24 of the Constitution for omitting to ensure that properties zoned as special residential 400 remain as such. It is an irony that the plan once intended to uplift a community can now be seen as hastening that community’s demise. The inclusion of Clairwood as a component in the port of Durban’s supply chain likely filled Clairwood residents with hope as the prospect of a redeveloped community seemed closer than ever before. The sad reality however is that the municipality, in failing to comply with redevelopment regulations and combined with impatience toward rezoning, has created a death trap for everyone else who depends on Clairwood. Clairwood’s residents are not against industrialisation but expect their neighbourhood to be accorded lawful procedures consistent with their constitutional right to an environment that is neither detrimental to their health nor well-being.