The Umbilo Business Forum is engaged in a transformative private and public partnership aimed at effectively addressing the key socio-economic challenges within Durban’s Umbilo suburb.

Ian Campbell-Gillies, an Umbilo business owner and policy director of the UBF, believes that the only way to ensure a better life and opportunities for all is to engage beyond our comfort zone and join hands with all those who share this area. Today Ian and Steve Thusi, the local community leader, take Andrew Layman from the South African Property (SAPOA) Owners Association on a quick tour of some of the UBF’s success stories, at the same time revealing the real challenges ahead.
Umbilo is the home of Durban industrial business but also the site of multiple crime waves due to poverty and what seems to be a lack of funding at municipal level. Throughout 2017, local businesses worked alongside private law enforcement and security personnel to breathe new life into the precinct.
The various projects embarked on by these partnerships have yielded good results, but also uncovered some significant challenges that lie ahead. “There is much work to be done. The lives and livelihoods of Durban citizens hang in the balance. We’ve seen blood, sweat and tears, but we’re not giving up. We are here to stay and change is what we will see. As we put down roots in 2017, so we will reap the fruits in 2018. We learn more each day about how best to address deep rooted systemic problems in the area. It’s been an eye opening experience,” says forum member Ian Campbell-Gillies, Co-owner of Clark and Kent Panelbeaters.
Lead by Jen Rampersad from Durban Parks and Gardens, vagrants were given temporary tented accommodation and a vegetable garden to tend to in mid 2017. They were taught the basics of subsistence farming by senior staff from the Parks and Gardens Department.


Lindiwe Cele (above) accepted the challenge of managing the Congella Park veggie garden, as well as the administrative function of the future Recycling Center, 2017, Durban. Picture: Ian Campbell-Gillies. 


The Congella Park Veggie Garden team, which has provided the homeless with work, food and shelter, 2017, Durban. Picture: Sikho Msomi. 

Lead by Kelvin Caldwell, UBF deputy chairman and owner of Brenlin Plumbers, the round building (bathroom facilities) at the top of the park was refurbished and refitted for the public. However, water and power has not yet been secured. It will be commissioned early in 2018 as part of the greater project of re-opening the park to the public.
Lead by Atlas Scrap initiatives to clean up the Park, a formalised recycling project was launched, inspired by a flourishing demand for recylables. The previously unregulated market had left the area in an untidy discarded state and much of the unwanted plastics and materials were lying in the street or being flushed into the harbour by the storm water system.
“The aim was to clean up Umbilo, end pollution of the harbour from our area, and add to the future success of the Park as a credit to the community. We ended the year with much of the infrastructure in place. This has set the UBF up well for a recycling facility launch early in 2018,” said Campbell-Gillies.
The Forum has supported amazing work by the Denis Hurley Center (DHC) and its new clinic next to the Beerhall. The DHC under the direction of Raymond Perrier, serves the needs of a marginalised local community and assists a small creche in the area. The Dalton Container Clinic (DCC) was successfully opened by Cardinal Napier in August and has accepted patients daily since July 2017. This area has for decades born the brunt of poverty, drug abuse and crime.


The Beer hall on 102 florance Nzama st. was built in 1914 as a social gathering place for the black labour in the area where they gathered to eat and drink for years until segregation was abolished. The existing building as a municipal beerhall served this purpose until 1968, after which it was rented out to various commercial firms. Picture:

“We see approximately 300 people each month and run a daily observed treatment (DOT) program for TB and ARV medication. Every patient on the DOT program is fed by us daily before being given their treatment. We also have a social worker available daily – the drop-in centre provided by the eThekhwini Municipality has yet to be manned,” said Ruth Birtwhistle, the DHC’s Head Nurse.
“The vegetable patch that was started by Tracy, a whoonga smoking Dalton inhabitant, has had moderate success. It has a tendency to flood rather badly when it rains but is in the process of being redone so hopefully that will no longer be an issue going forward,” she adds. The clinic is sadly still without water or electricity but has been assisted by Sanitech with two porta-loos. There is also a donated skip for general waste which is emptied regularly.
“The community has been very welcoming and is always there to help us out where possible. We are looking to beautify our immediate surroundings this year. Local street artist Giffy Duminy is planning a mural for the wall of the ablution block that faces the clinic. We are also hoping to have a doctor on site weekly going forward,” said Birtwhistle.
Mid-year 2017, a new supermarket on Dalton Road was ransacked and had to be closed. The Forum played a key role getting the owner of Shalom Supermarket, Mr Deste Liele, back into his premises. With the help of Councillor Mpumelelo Zuma the presence of the Deputy Mayor Fawzia Peer was secured at the reopening on 22nd November, as was a sizeable presence of Metro and SAPS personnel. This was followed by a walk-about tour of the Beerhall, Container Clinic and Skin Trade Shops.
The deputy mayor was shocked by both the stench of raw sewerage, the poverty, the visible effects of crime and the extraordinary potential for tourism and strong business inherent in the Skin Trade Shopping Center. A follow up meeting has been scheduled for January 2018 with the deputy mayor with the intention of securing funding for the area to regenerate business. Having been appraised of the business potential, and its power to offset and reduce crime during the walkabout tour, the Forum is optimistic about funding and pro-active municipal support.
Working with Blue Security, crime in the Williams/Khuzimpe Shezi Road area was stopped in its tracks for four months in the first half of the year. Prior to this UBF members were raided on an almost weekly basis. However, a surge in crime in the second half of the year saw the Umbilo Blue Ops project take some major knocks. An officer was shot and injured and two Blue side-arms surrendered at gunpoint to criminals.
A customer at the Engen Fuel Stop was shot in the leg. Details on the incident are unclear. Businesses withstood a spate of armed incursions, one of which was the warehouse studio of the prominent South African sculptor Andries Botha. His premises was burgled four times resulting in the artist vacating the area.
“Police claims about cleaning up have not yet materialised, despite some promises made late last year at a meeting with Umbilo SAPS,” said Campbell-Gillies.
Security ended on a very low point, with the Blue Ops project being put on hold until February. It is hoped that there will be a turnaround with improved support from SAPS and the Deputy Mayor this year.
In April the Forumsupported the Mazisi Kunene Foundation gala event at the Durban ICC to honour the extraordinary writer and poet. Significant funds were raised by generous donors in support of the evening which spotlighted of one of South Africa’s literary heroes.
The UBF began to get signings for the Urban Improvement Project (UIP) option in 2017 to take advantage of funding available via legislation applicable to Property Owners. UIP’s are aimed at establishing a local management structure for specific strategic precincts in which property owners and investors participate. This process is set to begin again in February with the aid of new membership subscriptions to fund the marketing of the UIP.
A special levy to landowners will be used to fund specific activities within the UIP. Funds will be allocated for the support of the activities of the UPI in its early establishment stages. The process has been guided by South Africa Property Owners Association Chairman Andrew Layman. The forum hopes to obtain the 51% approval of property owners by July 2018, in order to receive funding in August 2019.
The partnership between the public and private sector is aimed at improving the lives of residents and the operating infrastructure for business