eThekwini municipality blames pandemic for delay in 'fraud-tainted' high-rise court case

A court matter involving an unfinished high-rise building in Durban is still going on. Stock photo.
A court matter involving an unfinished high-rise building in Durban is still going on. Stock photo.

The eThekwini municipality is yet to disclose the record of its decision to approve the development of the multistorey apartment building at 317 Currie Road, citing the Covid-19 pandemic as one of the reasons.

Community activist group Save our Berea launched court action in August last year in which it seeks an order reviewing and setting aside the town planning and zoning authority given to the development, deemed a “monstrosity” by local neighbours.

Before the matter can be set down for hearing, the city has to file the record of all decisions.

Save Our Berea has in court papers alleged that this should be a simple process because the city had previously put up documents in a similar application in 2014, which resulted in a court order that the building be partially demolished — a ruling that was subsequently overturned in the Supreme Court of Appeal.

Since then the developers, Serengeti Rise Industries, have gone bankrupt and the building was sold at public auction to local businessman Jakes Pandor, through his ITPRO Trading.

The city’s chief legal adviser Silindile Blose, said in a recent affidavit that the present application was far different from the first, with allegations that the approval process had been “tainted by fraud”.

“They seek no less than 14 orders against the municipality, including access to employees involved in the decision. They now seek orders that the decisions were tainted by fraud. This requires a thorough search to establish whether there are any documents that may be relevant to this.

“The process is extensive, it involves multiple departments, numerous personnel and finding old documents which have been archived.

“The Covid-19 pandemic has posed unique challenges,” Blose said, because officials had been sick and others were working from home or in shifts.

TimesLIVE reported earlier this year that renowned clinical infectious disease epidemiologist Salim Abdool Karim had joined the renewed legal fight.

While he sought to join the proceedings, he has now withdrawn that application.

In his affidavit, he said he was both personally affected by the development, because he lived nearby, and he had an interest in the matter as a person who had long taken a firm stance against “maladministration and corruption”.

Pandor opposed the application. He said Abdool Karim’s affidavit revealed that he was acting as an “own interest litigant” and was required to put forward evidence that he had a direct legal interest, which may be prejudicially affected by the litigation “not merely an indirect or financial interest”.

“He has not done so,” Pandor said.

“In truth, the development has no impact on his property whatsoever. As the crow flies it is 130m between the two buildings. His outlook from his apartment is over the roof over the 317 development.

“The purpose of his intervention appears, instead, to act as cause célèbre.

Pandor submitted drone footage and photographs to the court, showing “high-rise density buildings all over the Berea”.

He also submitted a WinDeed search, which he said proved that there had in fact been a substantial increase in the value of apartments in Abdool Karim’s building, in spite of the 317 development.

Save Our Berea’s Cheryl Johnson said Abdool Karim had withdrawn the application because, being opposed, it would have delayed the matter further.

“He is still very involved,” she said.