Eviction of Clubs from the Richards Bay harbour and surrounding areas

By Allan Heydorn, Partner in the International Transport, Trade & Energy team

Imagine a well-developed Port not having facilities for the launching of pleasure craft such as ski – and bay boats nor moorings for yachts and larger sport fisher vessels.

It seems unthinkable but that is the scenario which is unfolding in the Port of Richards Bay if the City of uMhlathuze were to have its way.

 Chronological Developments

• Historically social and sports clubs paid nominal rentals to the municipality.
• On 25 November 2015, the Council reviewed the position and resolved to increase the rentals to an amount equivalent to 10% of the market related rental save for those clubs conducting commercial activities on their premises.
• Pursuant to a further resolution passed on 20 June 2017, officials met with representatives of the various clubs advising that they would be offered a further 1-year lease subject to the payment of drastically increased monthly rentals – the highest being that of the Zululand Yacht Club which would now be required to pay R85 000.00 per month.
• On 1 February 2018 many of the clubs received letters requiring that addenda to their lease agreements be signed within 24 hours accepting the drastic upward adjustments to the rentals failing which they should vacate their premises by 28 February 2018.

The affected Clubs and Institute with direct access to the harbour are:
Richards Bay Ski-Boat Club, Meerensee Boat Club, Zululand Yacht Club, Richards Bay See Scouts, Richards Bay Undersea Club, Zululand Multi-Sports Club and the National Sea Rescue Institute.

Affected Clubs / entities removed from the harbour area are:
Imvubu Lodge and Caravan Park, Empangeni Arts and Crafts, Richards Bay Rugby Club, Equestrian Club and Richards Bay Bowling Club.

Period of Occupation

The oldest of the clubs referred to above is the Zululand Yacht Club which was established in 1961 and has over the subsequent decades occupied the premises in terms of various leases. The Zululand Yacht Club has improved its premises by the construction of, amongst others, a Club house, boat houses, administrative offices, a slipway, repair facilities as well as walk-on and other moorings, the total insured value being in excess of R42 million. The other Clubs have similarly developed their premises to suit their specific requirements.

Contribution of Clubs

The boat clubs render the following services to the local and international community: launching facilities to the public, haulage and repair facilities, development programmes for the surrounding rural communities and the hosting of national and international fishing and sailing events.
In addition, the clubs’ premises are used by the Natal Sharks Board, the Waterwing of the South African Police Services, South African Maritime Safety Authority, National Sea Rescue Institute and to launch anti-poaching craft to combat gillnetting which is taking place on a massive scale within the port.

Legal Position

In view of the fact that none of the affected clubs are able to afford the exorbitant rentals imposed, which even if agreed to would have extended their tenure by a mere 12 months, some of the clubs have instituted legal proceedings by way of interdict and action against the municipality to resist the proposed evictions.

The hearing of the interdict was set down for 11 April 2018 on which date an agreement was reached to postpone the application indefinitely pending the outcome of the action challenging the grounds for the evictions. In the interim, the municipality has undertaken to suspend all further action against the clubs.

Rationale for evictions

The municipality avers that the space occupied by the various clubs is required to make way for a further waterfront development which gives rise to a number of questions:
• The proposed evictions must surely be premature given that no tender has been put out for any development?
• Why have the clubs situated well-outside any possible waterfront development zone been included in the list of those to be evicted?
• What is to become of some 135 yachts and other vessels berthed at the moorings of the Zululand Yacht Club?
• Has the position of those employees who will lose their employment been considered? The yacht club alone provides some 38 employees with work.
• Why could those existing clubs requiring access to the harbour not be permitted to remain in place and given the opportunity if and when a bona fide developer is appointed to negotiate to be incorporated in the envisaged grand waterfront development?
• Has the massive contribution of the clubs in promoting tourism been considered? During the State of the Nation Address, President Ramaposa stressed the importance of developing the tourism industry.
• The evictions of the clubs would be in direct conflict with the government initiative of Operation Phakisa which has as its objective the unlocking of the economic potential of the oceans.
• What is to become of the structures on the clubs’ premises once these have been vacated? They are likely to become a haven for vagrants and criminal elements as has happened elsewhere in Richards Bay following irrational and ill-timed evictions.

Resolution of matter
It will be interesting to see how the courts interpret the reasonableness of the municipality’s decision to evict the clubs.

For more information on the above contact:

Allan Heydorn, Partner in Richards Bay

+27 35 780 7250

heydorn@wylie.co.za