x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

Ruwaad project comes under protest

A Dubai developer's plan to build one of the largest leisure and shopping centres in Africa faces protests.

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

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. bhope@thenational.ae