Isipingo - History and Environmental Problems

(Extended Version)
Isipingo is located along the Indian Ocean coast south of the Bluff, Wentworth and Merebank. It is a heterogeneous conglomeration of sub-communities including Isipingo Beach, Isipingo Hills, Isipingo Rail, Lotus Park, Malukazi, and Orient Park.

The Isipingo area was inhabited by Khoi-San peoples before 1800 and by Zulu peoples at least by the 1820s, before being ceded to Dick King in 1843 for sugar-cane production. King's efforts brought Indian farmers to the area at least by the turn of the century. By 1919, the Indian community had formed the Isipingo Indian Society, later to become the Indian Civic Association.

Isipingo Beach, with its large houses high on the dune bluff overlooking the ocean, originally was a White area, but was declared an Indian area in 1963. Whites came to Isipingo by the 1920s and formed a town council by 1925. Whites there were among the scant two percent of the White population nationally that was moved as a result of the Group Areas Act. Approximately 25,740 people currently live in formal housing in Isipingo.

Isipingo Rail adjoins the Southern Freeway and is an important railway, bus, and taxi terminus between the informal settlements and Umlazi to the south and the City centre to the north. As the influx control laws were abolished in the mid-1980s, informal settlements grew up in Malukazi on the outskirts of Isipingo. The Urban Strategies Department estimated the population of this informal settlement at 1670 in July 1994. More recently, smaller informal settlements have sprung up on the edge of the Isipingo River estuary on land owned by the Airport Company and the Sapref Refinery. The diversity of the land uses of the sub-region and its adjoining the politically turbulent Malukazi area in Umlazi create uncertainty about security issues and about the future of development in Isipingo. Its very diversity and segmentation undercut very much corporate sense of community.

Town Board status was granted to Isipingo Beach and Isipingo Rail in 1972, and one Town Council was formed for both areas. The Prospecton industrial area, which was developed in the 1960s on land that separates the two residential areas of Isipingo, was incorporated into the White Borough of Amanzimtoti, despite its having been under the jurisdiction of the Isipingo Rail Health Committee since 1931. This has long been a grievance of Isipingo residents. The Isipingo Town Council petitioned the Natal Provincial Administration (NPA) repeatedly from 1976 to 1986 to incorporate Prospecton into Isipingo. The NPA contended that, because Prospecton had been declared a White industrial township by the central government, the province could not declare it part of an Indian area.

Thus, Isipingo residents were subjected to the pollution of the air and water from these industries, but the industries' rates of approximately R 30 million (in 1994) were allocated to neighbouring Amanzimtoti. The Isipingo Town Council had access to only very limited residential rates.

More than 18,000 people are employed in the 221 Prospecton firms, including the largest employers - Toyota Manufacturing, South African Breweries, and Republican Press. The Sapref refinery, Shell Chemicals, and Sasol Fibres also are important companies here.

In addition to the environmental problems caused directly by operations of these industries - including water pollution leading to repeated large fish-kills over the years, Isipingo Hills and the Isipingo Secondary School were affected for many years by noxious odours and a variety of health complaints related to air pollution from the Umlazi IV hazardous waste landfill situated near its border with Umlazi (which was closed in 1996 after many years of protest from residents of Isipingo and Umlazi and, later, other communities in SDCEA).

Another major environmental concern of the Isipingo community has been the degradation of the Isipingo estuary. The rivers and estuary have been dramatically affected by diversion of rivers and canalisation to create land for industrial development, which reduced the flow of water into the Isipingo estuary to less than 6% of its original flow. Pollution of the estuary has come from industry as well as from informal settlements, sewerage works, and solid waste. Once, this area was one of the finest estuaries and mangrove habitats on the entire Natal coast, but it has been seriously degraded. It is particularly well-known for the red mangrove species, Rhisophera mucronata. By 1995, only one pair of fish eagles remained. Many organisations in Isipingo have fought to save the estuary, beginning with the Isipingo Centre of the Wildlife Society in the mid-1980s, a number of civic groups in Isipingo, and, later, the Isipingo Environmental Committee.

- Adapted from Negotiating Environment and Development in Durban's South Basin: Communities, Industries, and Authorities, a 1996 report from the Institute for Social and Economic Research, University of Durban-Westville to the City of Durban as part of a project on Local Agenda 21. By David Wiley, Christine E. Root, Sven Peek, and Seyathie Ramurath.

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