City green light for Anant Singh’s R7bn beach­front project


AF­TER al­most 15 years of wait­ing, Dur­ban film­maker Anant Singh has been given the go-ahead to get rolling with his stu­dio, the ethek­wini Film City.

The ethek­wini Mu­nic­i­pal­ity has given Singh the green light to erect the R7 bil­lion project on the old Na­tal Com­mand site, in spite of the SA Na­tional De­fence Force own­ing a por­tion of the 21ha of prime land.

City man­ager Sipho Nzuza said while the mu­nic­i­pal­ity was ac­tively pur­su­ing the trans­fer of the whole of the land from the state back to the city, they had agreed to al­low Singh to go ahead with the con­struc­tion of his film stu­dio.

Nzuza said Singh would oc­cupy only a sec­tion of the land. “The other por­tion has not yet been trans­ferred back to the mu­nic­i­pal­ity, there have been de­lays from the de­fence depart­ment.”

He was op­ti­mistic the project would have a “pos­i­tive im­pact” as it would at­tract tourists and cre­ate job op­por­tu­ni­ties.

The city’s clear­ance could not have come sooner for the award-win­ning movie mogul, who has a meg­amovie pro­duc­tion on the cards and had planned to have it shot at the Dur­ban stu­dio.

Singh has won numer­ous in­ter­na­tional award nom­i­na­tions for his movies in the past, in­clud­ing his best-known pro­duc­tion, Man­dela: Long Walk to Free­dom, based on Nel­son Man­dela’s au­to­bi­og­ra­phy.

How­ever, the jour­ney to ac­tion on the stu­dio project has been akin to a Hol­ly­wood drama,with numer­ous twists, turns and long-run­ning court bat­tles.

Singh struck a deal with the city to pur­chase the prime site on Dur­ban’s beach­front, ad­ja­cent to the Sun­coast Casino and En­ter­tain­ment World, for R15 mil­lion in 2003. At the time, the deal re­ceived the pro­vin­cial govern­ment’s bless­ing.

How­ever those plans were scup­pered, largely by the late Pi­eter­mar­itzburg busi­ness­man Sunny Gayadin, who chal­lenged the pur­chase agree­ment with court ac­tion.

Gayadin, who died in May, claimed Singh’s deal with the city was not “kosher” and he main­tained he was pre­pared to pay R250m for the site.

He ini­tially got his way through a Pi­eter­mar­itzburg High Court de­ci­sion but he lost sub­se­quent fights in the Supreme and Con­sti­tu­tional Courts in 2012.

Singh said he was ex­cited that he would fi­nally be able to make a world-class devel­op­ment into a re­al­ity in his home town.

He said his com­pany looked for­ward to start­ing the con­struc­tion of the film stu­dios as soon as they had pos­ses­sion of the prop­erty.

The stu­dios will com­prise sound stages and pro­duc­tion work­shops, tele­vi­sion stu­dios for live broad­casts, edit­ing suites, a back lot set area, and a mu­seum of South African Cin­ema.

“We will be launch­ing a ma­jor project on the Na­tal Com­mand site and all pro­duc­tion ac­tiv­i­ties will be run from there. The project, which was bud­geted at over R100 mil­lion, will gen­er­ate numer­ous op­por­tu­ni­ties in the film sec­tor and, im­por­tantly, it will cre­ate more than 5 000 jobs,” Singh said.

“This pro­duc­tion will not only ben­e­fit the film in­dus­try, but a mul­ti­tude of re­lated in­dus­tries as well, thereby mak­ing a pos­i­tive im­pact on the city’s econ­omy.”

The devel­op­ment will also fea­ture at­trac­tions which will give vis­i­tors a win­dow into South African his­tory through repli­cas of Man­dela’s Robben Is­land cell and recre­ated el­e­ments of Luthuli’s Groutville home and Gandhi’s Phoenix Set­tle­ment.

Dur­ban-based film pro­ducer Ed­mund Mh­longo said he fully sup­ported the project, as not hav­ing stu­dios in Dur­ban was a set­back for the in­dus­try.

“Film pro­duc­ers are al­ways chal­lenged when they want to shoot in Dur­ban be­cause there are no stu­dios. As a re­sult, they end up shoot­ing in Joburg or Cape Town.”

Mh­longo said it cost film-mak­ers more to shoot movies in Dur­ban be­cause of all the hir­ing costs to cre­ate their own stu­dio. He said the lo­ca­tion of the stu­dio would also at­tract in­ter­na­tional film-mak­ers who wished to shoot their pro­duc­tions in Dur­ban.

“Many peo­ple who are in the film in­dus­try live in Joburg and Cape Town but are from KZN. They left be­cause we have no stu­dios,” said Mh­longo.

An­other pro­ducer, Madoda Ncayiyana, also wel­comed the planned stu­dio.

“I don’t think there are any film pro­duc­ers in Dur­ban who are against this project. It’s a big one for us.

“Shoot­ing on lo­ca­tion causes so much de­lay so it’s very costly and we are of­ten in­ter­rupted by peo­ple who want to watch while we are shoot­ing,” he said.

Strong winds bat­tered Dur­ban yes­ter­day, with res­i­dents tak­ing to so­cial me­dia plat­forms to share pic­tures of up­rooted trees and dam­aged build­ings and be­long­ings. Five peo­ple were in­jured in two road in­ci­dents, while the Dur­ban Chris­tian Cen­tre mar­quee, be­low, col­lapsed and part of a struc­ture in the CBD, left, was ham­mered to pieces. Read more on page 4.

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