Red card for property developers in Phoenix sports field debacle  

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SEVENTEEN sports fields in Phoenix that was allegedly acquired by developers from the eThekwini Municipality for various housing projects will not go ahead.

This follows a meeting initiated by Phoenix businessman Vassie Govender with Human Settlements, the property developers, and the South African Football Association (SAFA) grounds committee that was elected to save the local sporting fields after an apparent uproar from the community.

The grounds that were identified for rezoning include Sunford, ERF Stonebridge, that has two grounds, Clayfield (two), Eastbury (two), Rainham (two), Stanmore, Grove End (two), Bhambhayi, Clayfield, Northcroft, Rydalvale and Woodview. However, five other grounds including Redfern, Blackhaven, Stoneham, Northside and Westham were given ownership to the developers.

Speaking to The Phoenix Tabloid, Vassie Govender, who was approached by the committee for assistance, said there was “clearly a lack of communication” between the developers and Human Settlements as a collective that led to confusion and that the community did not know what was happening.

“The process commenced in the early 1990s when all the sports
fields, play lots, play grounds and parks were zoned as SR180 (residential). This will then become prime development sites between 1998 and 2000. Since the inception of this government sanctioned project, no one took notice of the fact that the listed fields were in danger of being sucked into the stated as they were still listed as ERF’s/infill sites and open spaces,” said Govender.

He claimed that before any forms of development took place on the affected sports fields, a meeting between Human Settlements, the eThekwini Municipality, councillors and developers was held on 12 June. “The councillors in attendance were mandated to report back on the various fields and that they would recommend that it remained untouched. They failed to do this, to such an extent that their head, George Marie had no knowledge of the minutes of the meeting.”

Govender said that he called a meeting between Human Settlements acting manager, Zama Nene, leading developers, the SAFA grounds committee on 12 October which after much discussions and negotiations, an agreement was reached that all the affected fields will be re-zoned.It was resolved that the sports fields would be re-zoned at the cost of the department and handed back to parks, who will then be responsible and allocate the fields to the relevant sporting organisations. It was also agreed that the onus shifted to the community as well as sporting organisations to ensure that the facilities are used, failing which they will be recalled and used for further developments.

George Marie of the Democratic Alliance said that his party and councillors “were well aware of the corruption” surrounding the allocation of infill sites to developers. “In respect of the Redfern grounds, we had a placard demonstration opposing the use for housing development on that field. We have since then submitted a memorandum to the mayor’s office, city manager, head of housing, andthe national minister of housing, demanding that parks, play lots and sports fields not be utilised for housing developments,” said Marie. “We have also written to the public protector and submitted the same memorandum for her to investigate why established community facilities such as parks, play lots and sports fields are being utilised for housing development.

”He said that he moved a motion in parliament calling on MEC for Human Settlements Ravi Pillay to further investigate every site that has been allocated for housing purposes. A memorandum has been submitted to Pillay to investigate the matter and calling on him to immediately stop the developments of housing on community facilities.Responding to queries by The Phoenix Tabloid, eThekwini Municipality spokesperson Msawakhe Mayisela confirmed that the city’s Human Settlements Department was invited to engage with the SAFA committee pertaining to sports fields as they are the regulatory body for official soccer leagues.

“There is no site zoned as a sport field in Phoenix. The developers were allocated sites that are zoned SR180 (residential), but are being used for recreational purposes. Some open spaces have been allocated for residential development, while others have been set aside for re-zoning to recreational use only. “The re-zoned sites will not be developed. Phoenix has an oversupply of open spaces which leads to underutilisation which led to these spaces being utilised for unsavoury deeds. The five sites that were ceded to developers were negotiated with the committee who was representing the sporting fraternities of Phoenix,” said Mayisela.

“The residential sites were sold to private developers for implementation of the infill project. Local councillors as well as the executive committee have been involved in this project since its initiation in the early 2000s. There were also a series of community consultations held in Phoenix, Chatsworth and Newlands. Thousands of people came to register for these housing opportunities,” he said.SAFA Phoenix president, Desmond Ganesan, commended the role players in securing the fields stating, “The SAFA Phoenix grounds committee along with Vassie Govender had not just secured football fields but cricket fields as well as play lots. We thank Jay Singh for realising that the existence of Phoenix and his social responsibilities was paramount and being a key factor in reaching this amicable solution.”