The eThekwini Council has approved the spending of more than R28 million for the demolition of the fire-damaged China Emporium building in the Durban CBD.
The building, located on the western side of the Durban central business district, was extensively damaged by fire in January 2022 and was condemned.
According to the executive committee report presented in council last week, the municipality will incur costs for the demolition, clearing of rubble and securing the site afterwards.
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These costs could not be budgeted for prior to the 2023/2024 budget approval as the respondent (Zoloscore Investments (Pty) Ltd) has always demonstrated commitment but moved the goalposts very late in the process.
“The respondent (Zoloscore) will have to pay all and any costs incurred by the applicant (municipality) consequent upon demolishing the building and structures and clearing up the property,” read the report.
According to the mayor Mxolisi Kaunda, it was reported that further repeated engagements with the building owners to demolish the building proved to be fruitless.
Meanwhile, the continued existence of the building in its current form poses the following challenges: illegal dumping around the building, unhygienic conditions as most people are now utilising the premises as unsanctioned public ablutions, potential disaster as the structure may collapse anytime given that it is unstable and, traffic congestion and loss of business in the area due to prolonged road closures.”
Kaunda said the building posed reputational damage to the municipality.
During the council meeting on Sunday, many opposition parties namely the Democratic Alliance (DA), Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP), ActionSA and other smaller bloc parties opposed the spending of more than R28 million to demolish the building without any guarantee that the money would be recovered from Zoloscore.
The DA felt that the building owners should be held accountable to take responsibility or for failure to take responsibility to demolish the building. As such, they abstained on the matter.
The other parties, while expressing reservations about the building owners’ not taking responsibility to comply with the court order issued in September 2022 to demolish the building, supported the report.
However, there were recommendations from parties to strengthen the by-laws for all building owners to take responsibility and accountability for their buildings and for the municipality to be able to hold them accountable.
For the report to be approved, 113 councillors supported it, 21 voted against and 52 abstained.