x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 July 2017

Ruwaad pushes on with mini-city

The developer, owned by Dubai 9 Group, to push on with huge construction plans despite protests from 3,000 Zulu farmers.

DUBAI // Ruwaad Holdings, a property developer owned by the Dubai 9 Group, is planning to push ahead with its plans to build a huge entertainment centre and mini-city in South Africa, despite pressure from a local tribal chief and some 3,000 Zulu farmers who do not want to be relocated. "We are still involved with the project," said Hayan Merchant, the group chief executive of Ruwaad. "It is up to the government to complete its social interaction with the community.

"Together, we are jointly establishing a way forward in the interest of all parties." Mr Merchant would not comment on reports in South African newspapers that Ruwaad's memorandum of understanding with the South African government had expired, saying the company's arrangements with its partners and the government were confidential. The project, called Amazulu World, would cover 16,500 hectares of land in the KwaZulu-Natal province with a multibillion-dirham development that would include a theme park, golf courses, a giant shopping mall and a 106-metre-tall statue of King Shaka, the Zulu warrior.

Last December, the project came under protest from a group calling themselves the eMacambini Anti-Removal Committee, who said they did not want to be shifted from their ancestral homeland. The protesters blocked a major motorway between Durban and Richard's Bay with burning tyres. The police broke up the group with rubber bullets and pepper spray after they started throwing rocks at cars, according to local newspapers.

Ruwaad submitted a proposal to the Ingonyama Trust, a government body that owns the land on behalf of the Zulu people. The trust said that the Ruwaad proposal would uproot about 8,500 households and build them new homes in another, smaller area. Mr Merchant has previously denied the number of homes affected was 8,500, but declined to give another number. The local tribal chief made things more complicated by announcing that he had signed a deal with another Dubai property developer, Sports Cities International, which he said had agreed to build a smaller project that would not require the tribe members to move.

Sports Cities International has not commented on the chief's claim. Mr Merchant said it was the government's role to negotiate with the tribesmen over the land, and his team was focusing on the design and plans. Mr Merchant said the negotiations had been delayed by local elections. "Ruwaad is mindful of the fact that during a very busy time like the elections, these negotiations must take longer than expected," he said. bhope@thenational.ae