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