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Vi­vian Reddy is build­ing a shop­ping mall on my child­hood. The busi­nessper­son, ANC fun­der and friend of for­mer pres­i­dent Ja­cob Zuma has ripped up the sports com­plex in KwaDukuza (Stanger), a small sugar and paper-milling town 75km north of Durban and is re­plac­ing it with the con­crete and bricks of another an­o­dyne con­sumerist cathe­dral.

Dur­ing apartheid, the Stanger Coun­try Club grounds, which in­cluded a cricket oval, a nine-hole golf course, net­ball and ten­nis courts and a swim­ming pool, were for white peo­ple only, although they were sur­rounded by In­dian and black town­ships and schools.

Owned by Ton­gaat Hulett, it was handed over to the op­pressed for use in the early 1980s when the sug­ar­cane grow­ing and pro­cess­ing com­pany built new whites-only fa­cil­i­ties in nearby Gled­how.

Provin­cial caps and na­tional cham­pi­ons in codes such as ath­let­ics, ten­nis, foot­ball and cricket would emerge from these grounds. Young chil­dren — black, In­dian and coloured — honed their skills in the chaotic puz­zle of daily foot­ball and cricket games, tri­umph­ing over the apartheid state’s in­ten­tions to limit joy and as­pi­ra­tion.

The Stanger Re­cre­ation Ground next door, also evis­cer­ated by the on­go­ing mall con­struc­tion, was to be­come one of the first sports grounds in the coun­try to em­brace non­racism — in 1960. The Lower Tugela Dis­trict In­dian Foot­ball As­so­ci­a­tion ex­punged the “In­dian” racial tag from its con­sti­tu­tion and five black African teams joined the league in June that year — one of the first am­a­teur leagues to do so.

Years later, my fa­ther would take me to the Re­cre­ation Ground to watch Cru­saders United play teams such as Light­body’s San­tos and Berea FC in the old Fed­er­a­tion Pro­fes­sional League. Clin­ton Larsen bossed the Cru­saders mid­field. I learnt swear words in Tamil, Hindi and isiZulu, and the ev­er­last­ing pes­simism of be­ing a foot­ball fan.

Af­ter the un­ban­ning of po­lit­i­cal par­ties in the 1990s and sports uni­fi­ca­tion, Cru­saders were ad­mit­ted into the Na­tional Soc­cer League. The creaky Re­cre­ation Ground was too small to host glam­our clubs such as Or­lando Pi­rates with their massed sup­port, but Mamelodi Sun­downs vis­ited in March 1992. It felt as if half the town had squeezed in to watch stars such as Zane Moosa bam­boo­zle Cru­saders play­ers — the other half were watch­ing it at home, ex­cited because KwaDukuza was ac­tu­ally on the tele­vi­sion. Sun­downs won 1-0 de­spite a doughty per­for­mance by Cru­saders, who were rel­e­gated later that sea­son.

The sounds of my “bras” pre­tend­ing to be Pi­rates goal ace Al­bert “Bashin” Mahlangu, ten­nis player Ste­fan Ed­berg or the West In­dian bats­man Brian Lara are mere spec­tral whis­pers now — the thrill of sport­ing ac­com­plish­ment re­placed by the in­dus­trial roar of drilling, ham­mer­ing and ex­ca­va­tion.

The town al­ready has a shop­ping mall. Why another had to be built on sports fa­cil­i­ties that were ac­ces­si­ble to sev­eral neigh­bour­hoods, in­clud­ing the nearby Shakav­ille town­ship, and the five schools within 500m of the site, is a ques­tion that has nagged at peo­ple such as Ha­roon Ma­hom­edy.

He is a lo­cal busi­nessper­son and for­mer sports ad­min­is­tra­tor. His fa­ther, EC Ma­hom­edy, was pres­i­dent of the Lower Tugela Dis­trict Foot­ball As­so­ci­a­tion when it em­braced non­racism at a time when sport was in­creas­ingly be­ing used as a weapon against apartheid.

“The grounds are of great his­tor­i­cal sig­nif­i­cance,” says Ma­hom­edy, “but it was also one of the few pub­lic spaces eas­ily ac­ces­si­ble to a large sec­tion of Stanger res­i­dents for sports. There are sev­eral va­cant plots for a mall de­vel­op­ment but, by build­ing it on the sports grounds, the mu­nic­i­pal­ity is re­ally rip­ping the soul out of this com­mu­nity.”

Ma­hom­edy is also chair­per­son of the Con­cerned Cit­i­zens Group (CCG), which has chal­lenged the R9-mil­lion sale of 27 hectares of pub­lic land to Reddy’s Double Ring Trad­ing 7, for the de­vel­op­ment. The group en­listed in­de­pen­dent real es­tate con­sul­tants Knight Frank to eval­u­ate the land. They found the price paid was “sig­nif­i­cantly un­der mar­ket” value, es­ti­mat­ing its value closer to R60-mil­lion.

Ac­cord­ing to the min­utes of coun­cil meet­ings and ten­der doc­u­ments, the ini­tial de­vel­op­ment was to in­clude a civic cen­tre and mu­nic­i­pal of­fices. These the mu­nic­i­pal­ity planned to “rent to own” back from Reddy. The mu­nic­i­pal build­ings ap­pear to be no longer in­cluded in the project.

Last year, the CCG took the KwaDukuza mu­nic­i­pal­ity and Double Ring Trad­ing 7 to the high court in an ur­gent at­tempt to stop the de­vel­op­ment un­til they had re­ceived more in­for­ma­tion from the mu­nic­i­pal­ity re­gard­ing the sale of the land.

KwaZulu-Na­tal high court judge Ma­hen­dra Chetty dis­missed the matter on a tech­ni­cal­ity — the CCG’s found­ing facts dif­fered from those their coun­sel pre­sented in court — but said he was in “gen­eral agree­ment with the sen­ti­ment ex­pressed by the ap­pli­cants that cit­i­zens can­not be ex­pected to sit back and al­low or­gans of state or lo­cal gov­ern­ment to flout the law, par­tic­u­larly in re­spect of the dis­po­si­tion of pub­lic land”.

The CCG’s re­view ap­pli­ca­tion has not started because the mu­nic­i­pal­ity has ig­nored re­quests for in­for­ma­tion

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