Durban’s needs its waterfront

Mar 6, 2007
Author: Terry Hutson


Durban’s yacht and small craft basin interfaces well with the remainder of the port, reflecting the synergies that exist between the two elements. Proposals for the development of the Victoria Embankment Waterfront precinct can only enhance this feeling of togetherness in Durban Bay, which is good for the city and the port. Picture Terry Hutson                                                    

Proposals for a new waterfront and marina along Durban’s Victoria Embankment have made the news recently, without quite raising the ire (so far) of any who might be affected by the development.

On the other hand the proposed international marina at the Point, facing directly into the Durban outer anchorage, has a lot going for it, but it also has its detractors and not without good reason.

Anything that adversely affects the sanctity of Vetch’s Pier, which forms the northern boundary of the proposed marina, needs to be called into question, even though Vetch’s was the result of a botched attempt at creating the right environment for a deepwater entrance to the port.

It was an early example of the foolishness of calling in so-called expert advice from overseas when local knowledge was better – that’s a lesson that Durban (and Africa) hasn’t always remembered. Captain Vetch offered his expensive advice (it cost twice as much as the next proposal) from the sanctity of his office in the British Admiralty in London, without ever having visited Durban. They accepted!

But to compound their boo-boo they later honoured the man even further by having a road at Maydon Wharf subsequently named after him!

Nevertheless the ‘shorn’ version of Vetch’s, reduced later to low tide height level, has become an artificial reef replete with marine creatures including a mussel bed and is a wonderful and safe place for people to snorkel and learn to dive - a heritage that Durbanites should fight for.

According to the experts (local it may be added), the proposed new marina will retain much of the pier plus a new snorkelling lagoon may become possible.

But part of the problem is that we seldom get what is advertised. The spate of casinos around the country was an example of this phenomenon. While still at the bidding stage developers were able to exaggerate impressively with fantastic designs and services, knowing that once they were awarded the contract and reality sets in along with cost overrides they will be allowed to begin pruning.

And with the proposed marina there is still too much ambiguity – understandable perhaps as it is still in the assessment stage. But how about some categorical answers to issues like public access and exclusivity, including some clarity from both the developers and the National Ports Authority regarding access to the new northern breakwater, which it seems will be part of the marina structure. Let us hope that fears of American persuasion - some call it bullying - relating to port security and the ISPS code will not prevent Joe Public from being able to stroll along the breakwater to take in the view.

As for the Victoria Embankment development, many regard this as long overdue and there are those who believe it to be the only waterfront with the potential to compare with the V&A at Cape Town. Right now developers are calling for proposals (which closed on 23 January), and it is still too early to comment on what we can expect, but we must trust that the city father’s will not settle for some Heath Robinson affair built to minimum standards. The entire area from Wilson’s Wharf (another marina which was developed on the ‘inexpensive side’ and already requires renovation), all the way to the Bat Centre - now a prison behind ugly and unwelcoming security fencing - begs for constructive and inspirational ideas.

The irony is that about 17 ago the then Transnet offered to do just that – develop the precinct with a very ambitious waterfront complete with hotels, restaurants and shops that would have rivalled the V&A or any other elsewhere. Sadly the city fathers of that day in their wisdom turned it down and the opportunity was lost. We could have been enjoying that facility by now.

There’s a story that they (the city fathers) later changed their minds but by then it was too late. One is so often reminded of the late Durban cartoonist Jock Leyden who created two characters existing in municipal service who were named Dilly and Dally, which he used to lampoon inept decision making by the municipality.


The Ifs and Buts of life, or what might have been! In or about 1990 Transnet offered to facilitate a marina within Durban Harbour, situated opposite the Victoria Embankment between the Bat Centre (tug boat basin) and the existing yachting marina.      

The city fathers of that time, in their wisdom, decided against the proposal and so nothing happened. Now, 17 or so years later a new city council wants to revamp the existing marina, almost certainly on a less ambitious scale to that offered by Transnet.

The city will have to arrange the finance for the development.

Transnet was the original developer of the Cape Town Victoria & Albert Waterfront in Cape Town



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