Oceans Umhlanga complex makes waves – with space for supercars but not taxis
A glitzy new mixed-use complex and the local municipality can’t agree on how to accommodate a public transport facility.
Big dudes with big guns and hundreds of taxis brought the posh KwaZulu-Natal seaside village of uMhlanga to a standstill last week.
There was surprise public sympathy for the hundreds of taxi operators who blockaded uMhlanga and stared down the eThekwini municipality.
The municipality was the ostensible target of the demonstration, but it was hard to ignore the real figure in the crosshairs.
Self-styled billionaire and Jacob Zuma pal Vivian Reddy is the face of Oceans Umhlanga, a development he owns with various shareholders, including KwaZulu-Natal businessman Rob Alexander and the Public Investment Corporation.
Taxis gridlocked the playground of the rich and famous because Oceans Umhlanga and the municipality can’t reach agreement on how to accommodate a public transport facility in what some describe as their giddy pursuit of gaudy.
The mixed-use complex, which includes a hotel and apartment towers atop a glitzy mall, has become synonymous with supercars, Louis Vuitton, Jimmy Choo and Dolce & Gabbana. But there’s not enough space for taxis in the R4.3-billion development.
Some ratepayers say the developers have reneged on a deal to incorporate a public transport facility into the complex, an integral part of the deal to sell public land.
Mired in controversy
Oceans Umhlanga has been mired in controversy since Reddy got his hands on nine hectares of plum real estate from the municipality in what many called a sweetheart deal 20 years ago. The land is near the M4 freeway and is flanked by Lagoon Drive and Lighthouse Road.
The development, which was started in 2016, has been beset by challenges. The construction mafia hit the site in 2018 and claimed Reddy’s business was not empowering black people.
In 2019, construction company WBHO sued Reddy for R35-million for work already done but not paid for. It withdrew its court action after a payment plan was hatched.
Then, last year, the development came under threat again with a court application to “freeze” the project by suspending building plans and certificates of occupation that had been granted by the eThekwini municipality.
The claim was that Oceans Umhlanga had failed to comply with originally approved building plans to build a below-ground public transport facility to replace a hub that had existed on the site. The land Reddy had bought from the municipality used to house a taxi rank and other public amenities.
The court application was brought by neighbouring property developers, which said Oceans Umhlanga refused to comply with statutory conditions imposed on it.
At one point Oceans Umhlanga and the municipality hatched a controversial “co-funding” agreement that saw the latter pledge R128.5-million towards the costs of the public transport facility, but later it said it could not afford what would have been 70% of the costs.
The taxis shut down uMhlanga and blocked the entrance to the mall because they are forced to park on the side of the freeway. Dr Dhes Mari, who is on the body corporate of Beacon Rock, a building opposite Oceans Umhlanga, is among a group of property owners demanding a resolution from the city.
“They gave approval for the Oceans, but since then they’ve peddled different versions of how to accommodate the public transport facility,” Mari said.
“Plans for the public transport facility have changed, uMhlanga has boomed and Reddy got city approval to increase Oceans from 75,000m² to 103,000m² .
“Why didn’t the municipality interrogate all this and the impact it will have? The taxis park on the side of the freeway and commuters have no weather shelter or any toilets. They are given absolutely no dignity and yet down the drag at Oceans you have all sorts of fancy things. This is wrong.”
The eThekwini municipality said it was due to meet taxi operators to “find long-lasting solutions to address issues related to the lack of a designated public transport space for taxis near the Oceans Mall” after taxis were shut out “by mall management without any consultations”.
City correspondence leaked to Daily Maverick and dated September 2022 reveals how officials and Oceans Umhlanga have been at odds with each other. In one memo, eThekwini Transport Authority head Thami Manyathi accused the developers of “blatant” untruths and having not done enough to address “compliance requirements”. He alleged that Oceans Umhlanga was instead “investing more time and money attempting to develop” an alternative transport facility.
Oceans CEO Brian Mpono said: “The responsibility for public transport in uMhlanga lies with the municipality, not the private developers.” But, in response to the blockade, he said Oceans Umhlanga had opened an interim facility for 50 taxis.
Councillor Nicole Bollman said the developers and the municipality had to be held to their promises. “Constantly changing the goalposts has created much frustration. The arrogance on the part of Oceans and the city needs to be pushed aside to find a solution … There are more than 2,500 parking spaces at Oceans. Some could go to taxis.”
Attorney Tina Halstead from Cox Yeats is representing various uMhlanga property owners in legal action against the municipality and Oceans Umhlanga.
She says that, in April last year, the two hosted a meeting and announced that the long-awaited, approved public transport facility would not be built, as neither had the money to build it. Halstead objected.
Although the legal action is still pending, earlier this year her clients entered into negotiations with the municipality and Oceans Umhlanga to settle the impasse. The talks are focused on different versions of alternative public transport facilities proposed by the developers, the municipality and the stakeholders, but no solution has been found.
Halstead says Oceans has designated parking for supercars but no space for the approved public transport facility. “The taxis have not been provided for and the traffic situation in uMhlanga has become untenable … Why is this developer allowed to do exactly as it likes without the current approvals being enforced?”
Sifiso Shangase, the KwaZulu-Natal manager of the South African National Taxi Council, laid the blame for the blockade at the feet of Oceans Umhlanga and the eThekwini municipality for “failing to deliver on repeated promises to accommodate a taxi rank in uMhlanga”. DM
This story first appeared in our weekly Daily Maverick 168 newspaper, which is available countrywide for R29.