DURBAN SLUMS A DISASTER WAITING TO HAPPEN
By: Sandile Zikhali
Durban being a city with a lot of opportunities where people from most rural parts of KwaZulu-Natal and the rest of the country relocate to, it is said to be overpopulated and can
no longer withstand the flood of people coming into the city.
The city attracts immigrants hoping to find work as well as many refugees who have left horrific situations in their home countries. A large number of people flocking into the city
means that a lot of people need accommodation.
One hundred and thirty two buildings in the city have been identified by the Organization of Civic Rights as being fire hazards, offering cramped accommodation, converted for illegal
accommodation, being neglected, having no toilet and water facilities and being a shelter for
City Life Student Accommodation, situated on Dr Yusuf Dadoo Street, is an example of a building which was once a parking lot but then converted into a block of flats.
Xola Thwala who shares a room with his friend at City Life, said that their room is not big enough to accommodate two people.
“The space is too small and the heat inside is unbearable. We are sweating most of the time, but we don’t have a choice because it is cheap,” said Thwala.
He said that there are a lot of buildings like this that he knows of, and there is no use in complaining. Accommodation is in demand and if you don’t want to take the place, someone
is always waiting to take it.
Landlords are buying out buildings that were once used as offices and converting them to flats for rent.
Chairperson of the Organization of Civic Rights, Iqbal Mohamed Sayed, said in his interview with the Independent Newspapers, that there were a number of buildings that were potential death traps.
“We are involved in investigating several buildings, some of which are in an appalling state of disrepair. There are about 28 buildings that were previously designed for commercial use
in and around Durban – mainly in Umgeni Road, Albert Park, Grey Street and the Point,” explained Sayed.
The high demand for accommodation allows landlords to manipulate tenants.
Lindokuhle Khumalo, a tenant from New York House around St. Georges street said that in her flat there are seven boys and girls, they all share the same bathroom which is very
“There are lot of things that you see when you live under such conditions. We are paying rent but we don’t see where our rent goes. The lifts are faulty, the showers are not working
properly, the building has cracks,” said Khumalo.
Onke Vika, a student from the University of KwaZulu-Natal, said that he doesn’t have a choice because he is too far away from home.
“I don’t have any relatives here in Durban and I don’t have the money to pay for expensive flats. So I have to stay in these “slums”- at least I know there is roof over my head,” said
Municipal Head of the Safer Cities and Trump Unit, Martin Xaba, said the city had identified 37 buildings in Durban’s CBD and Pinetown that were in contravention of city by-laws.
Xaba said that the degeneration of the buildings had affected the rate-base of the municipality.
He further explained that the slumlords are making thousands while they are not paying rates.
“Efforts to tackle bad buildings have been met with some success, but the city has not been able to tackle the cause and symptoms of this growth in slum accommodations,” said Xaba.
According to Mark Te Water, the deputy head of eThekwini Fire Disaster Management, buildings are variously classified in terms of the national building regulations.
If the purpose of the building changes, the owner is obliged to submit plans to have the classification changed and to detail any alterations and additions thereon.
“The possibility of eThekwini having casualties in the event of a fire in such premises is great.
There are always difficulties when the water supply to a building is switched off.
Firstly the residents have scant means of fighting a fire before the fire department arrives.
Sometimes we have to run the hose up the stairs instead of plugging in to a hydrant on the fire floor,” said Te Water.
The municipality has announced plans to demolish some of the buildings, but any initiatives need to get the go-ahead of the Amafa Heritage council.