The South Coast of KwaZulu-Natal – in times gone by a favoured holiday destination for local and international travellers – is re-energised, fixing problems and attracting new business, writes Jonathan Erasmus.
WATCH: KZN South Coast is Turning the Corner
The lack of potable water in the area has often taken centre stage, as has poor service delivery from local authorities. This – combined with infrastructure challenges and corruption allegations – has made it tricky to market the region as a preferred destination to live, work and play.
The area comprises the local municipalities of Umdoni, Umzumbe, Ray Nkonyeni and uMuziwabantu, all falling within the Ugu District Municipality. Each has faced significant operational issues.
While the South Coast has floundered, the province’s North Coast has taken centre stage and is attracting an ever-increasing number of investments. This has transformed former farmlands from uMhlanga to Salt Rock and created some of the most sought-after real estate in South Africa.
But there is resilience on the South Coast, and a renewed eagerness to change.
In Scottburgh, there is a multi-year rates dispute being led by residents tired of poor service delivery, while in Port Edward, concerned residents undertake water tests for water service provider Ugu.
A common thread that runs through each community is the need for self-determination. An example of this can be found in the initiative known as Tidy Towns. Its mission is simple – to change the perception of the South Coast from one of negativity to one of prosperity.
Driven by Stephen Herbst, the initiative has seen residents get stuck in to improve things. Herbst said the main industry in the region was tourism and the South Coast wasn’t the only area facing service delivery failures.
“We are not the only South Africans with a broken municipality. In 2021, Tidy Towns was started on St Michaels beach as a clean-up. We wanted to show what a small group could do. We are just trying to get the basics right. This initiative is self-funded, and the success has been to change mindsets.”
Tidy Towns now has chapters in various municipalities. And with each success, the group of community warriors has been emboldened to take on even bigger projects.
“We repaired the R68 road which was severely damaged by the April floods. It was priced as a R3-million job. That road was blocking the business artery between the south and north of Margate. We did the job in three weeks after we got permission from the council – and we did the entire repair on donations.
“Not only are we transforming our region, but we are creating hope. We have a massive homeless problem here and are reintegrating these people back into the community. We provide them with a stipend to look after a specific area,” said Herbst.
But voluntary community activism is not easy, and despite all the best intentions, such efforts require reinvention and consistency of resources.
This is why the creation of special rating areas (SRA), guided by the Municipal Property Rates Act, is slowly gaining traction. Southbroom has transformed itself in a matter of years via the use of SRA, resulting in crime being decreased by some 80% thanks to a combination of security patrols and number plate recognition cameras, according to Grant Meyer, who runs Wolf Security.
Ramsgate has also recently implemented its own SRA and further SRAs are on the cards for Margate, Uvongo and Shelley Beach.
SRAs, also referred to as UIPs (Urban Improvement Precincts) have been used successfully in uMhlanga, Durban’s popular Florida Road, and Glenwood, in recent years. The concept is simple – if the majority of property owners accept the need for an SRA then an additional fee is added to their monthly rates bill. This additional amount is then transferred to a special-purpose vehicle in the form of a non-profit company that manages the funds. The funds are mostly used for extra security, additional cleaning, and maintenance of public infrastructure.
The South Coast has used the financial muscle of the SRA and combined it with the power of the Community Policing Forum (CPF) to help fund more police reservists. The reservists are assigned a CPF-branded car and a security officer to work alongside them.
Wolf Security has partnered with the Ramsgate and Southbroom SRAs, with Meyer describing this as a game changer. Each SAPS reservist is authorised to execute arrests, undertake stop-and-search operations, and open dockets, all with the support from private security. “The reservists, who are volunteers, are provided with a donation from the CPF, which is supported by the SRA. Right now, we have a reservist for each shift. It is a marvellous working solution. There is also much more accountability, and we are able to open case dockets and follow through to finality any incident that has been recorded and reported. The Margate Station Commander is fully supportive and involved in the initiative as it has freed up his personnel to deal with other serious issues in the rural areas,” said Meyer.
The president of the South Coast Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Dick Basday, said there were also positive movements in local business, with residents getting back to work after the Covid-19 lockdowns.
“There is a demand for office space. People are considering opening businesses and the economy is picking up.”
Basday, who was elected in August, said the focus of his 24-month tenure would be on water supply, regularly hampered by infrastructure failures.
“Any business needs water. In some areas there is no water for 20 days of a month, yet Ugu District Municipality – the water service provider – is still charging its customers. The Chamber will be tackling this issue and if need be we will drag it to the high court.”
Basday said the South Coast should be one of the most desirable places to live in the country, but the water crisis had suppressed the values of property and hampered growth. The Chamber would hold the local authorities accountable.
Jo-Anne Wentzel, the chairperson of the Margate Business Association, said the “miles and miles of golden beaches” make the South Coast “the perfect destination for families and tourists”.
“All the swimming beaches are currently open for swimming, and [water quality] is regularly tested. Our local SAPS and municipal law enforcement, together with our local security companies and all stakeholders, have created a very safe overall experience for all,” said Wentzel.
She said that Margate, unlike many other nearby towns, had experienced no water disruptions for a few months – a positive turnaround for the business and tourism hub.
“Being a sought-after tourist destination, obviously our businesses mostly cater for tourism. Most of our established holiday resorts and accommodation facilities are functioning perfectly well again, and offer extremely affordable prices for a well-deserved holiday,” said Wentzel.