Background information on the "Save Vetch's" campaign
In the last newsletter in October last year, I stated that the previous few months had been the most traumatic in our entire existence, but today I have a completely different story to tell. At that stage, the developers (DPDC) were bent on liquidating us by enforcing the eviction costs order of R884 485 (reduced to R261 287), attaching our furniture and trying to “steal” the members’ skis stored in the bunkers. This despicable action was without any doubt, a malicious and vindictive measure for our club standing its ground, opposing their small craft harbour and forming the Save Vetch’s Association (SVA), which, through litigation, eventually prevented them from destroying the beach and Vetch’s Pier and of course, making lots of boodle at everyone else’s expense.
Whilst all this was going on we had been locked in negotiations with them at directorship-level for close to a year, working towards agreeing to a much down-scaled development and an overall compromised agreement between the developers, the Save Vetch’s Association and our club. Doing both at the same time, as well as attending to the usual club issues and trying to attend to my business and live a normal life, was indeed a most taxing period for me. But somehow, we managed to pull through once again, and today I can honestly say that I am extremely proud of what our humble little club has managed to achieve, despite such heavy odds that were stacked against us.
To cut a long story short, after nearly 9 years, filled with conflict, controversy, much anxiety and so much totally unnecessary expenditure, an agreement was signed on 23 November 2012, allowing a much scaled-down development to proceed, whilst preserving most of the beach (300 metres out of 500 metres) and leaving Vetch’s Pier and Limestone Reef untouched. (Wasn’t that all we ever wanted?) All parties will pay their own costs, meaning that our R261 287 debt to the developers has also been written off. All the clubs will now amalgamate and relocate to a site at the base of Vetch’s Pier, more or less, the current site of Durban Undersea Club, above the erosion line. The full agreement with the new plan can be viewed on our website and at the club.
There are numerous advantages to the previous plan, which I must say, had been supported by the other boating clubs. Under the previous plan, the entire beach, save for a 100 metre (soft launch) stretch, would have been buried under concrete. A 5.5 metre high concrete seawall would have been built alongside Vetch’s Pier, virtually destroying all the marine life on it. The Point Watersports Club would have been at the base of the North Pier surrounded by a shopping mall and apartments with virtually no beach for the thousands of their members to enjoy. A 24-storey hotel would have also been built alongside Vetch’s Pier causing even more destruction to the reef.
The new plan negotiated by SVA and the Durban Paddle Ski Club ensures 300 metres of beach is retained for the use of the club members to launch their craft and not 150 metres as stated recently by Durban Ski Boat and Durban Undersea Clubs to their members. The new club site will be adjacent to the beach, with 4x4 vehicles and trailers able to park on it as is currently being done. The public will have full access to the beach and Vetch’s Pier. No concrete breakwater or hotel will be built alongside Vetch’s Pier with all its marine life remaining unaffected. All categories of sailing craft will be able to launch, either from the beach or from a hard and sheltered slip-way.
The next step for us would be to negotiate the amalgamation and relocation process with the other clubs and try to ensure an affordable fee structure amongst many other matters. This will be no easy task, as over the last few years, some of these clubs had repeatedly criticized us for our stance, (Trying to save Vetch’s Beach) and now, while we are receiving so many congratulatory comments from so many of their own members and the public at large, they are saying that they have also been working hard and “they too played a major role in unlocking the impasse that existed.” This comment comes hardly after a few weeks of making the following statement in the Ski Boat Club “Commodore’s Report”: Quite frankly there is little to report in terms of change, other than the Paddle Ski Club lost its tenure battle with costs. Thankfully we are not in the same position, and had we been it would be quite difficult to start negotiations for our place in the sun in such a hostile environment. This ridiculous and thoughtless statement clearly comes from someone who does not have a clue of what has been going on around him for all these years and what we have actually achieved.
Well, guess what? Unlike them, we refused to be bullied, instead choosing to stand our ground, taking the developers and our “landlords” head-on, saving the beach and still managing to negotiate in a hostile environment, a far, far better deal for them than they did themselves. They had often said that they chose the negotiation route while we had chosen the confrontation route. Somehow, we don’t see it that way. No my friend, they can continue to “be thankful that they are not in our position”, but we wouldn’t swop positions with them for all the money in the world.
In my view, the route they took, achieved nothing and they negotiated nothing. They allowed themselves to be bullied and dictated to accepting a site they could never own, plagued by controversy, situated below a disputed high-water mark, 500 metres away from whatever would have remained of Vetch’s Pier and virtually surrounded by a shopping mall. They did this without even putting up an argument. Instead, they buckled under the pressure and tied themselves down to a memorandum of agreement giving the developers sole discretion to allocate them another site should the small craft harbour not go ahead. And that is exactly what has played out nearly 5 years later. The beach site the clubs now find themselves in was only made possible by the legal action taken by SVA and our club and the subsequent agreement we struck. They had nothing to do with that.
I was encouraged however at a recent Durban Undersea Club meeting, in which DUC member, Geremy Cliff, acknowledged the role our little club played in saving the beach for everyone else to enjoy, and his comments received an instant round of applause from the members.
Having said all that was needed to be said, we now have to put all our differences aside and concentrate on the task and challenges ahead. We hope that we can all come up with an acceptable but cost-effective building and a fee structure that is not unaffordable to the average man in the street. That is certainly not what we fought for. But when one thinks how far we have come and just how many seemingly insurmountable obstacles we overcame over the last 5 years, this task should be far, far easier. Let’s keep the faith.
With the battle finally over, it is perhaps time to reflect on all the people who stood with us and actually made this victory possible. First and foremost, a huge thank you must go to our legal team, made up by Michael Jackson, who was so influential in reaching this compromise agreement, and advocates, Peter Rowan SC, who fought so passionately defending us numerous times and getting our skis returned, Douglas Shaw QC, Andrea Gabriel SC and Andreas Coutsoudis, who all worked so passionately tirelessly and most generously over the last number years. The Save Vetch’s Association team for picking up the baton from our club and taking it through to the finish line and in the process saving the beach and ensuring our survival. A huge thank you also goes out to the many members of the other boating clubs on Vetch’s Beach, who in their personal capacity along with the general public, supported our cause and chipped in so generously helping fund the battle to the end.
And let’s not forget the real heroes behind this long and memorable struggle. These heroes are surely you guys, the past and present members of the Durban Paddle Ski Club. From the very beginning you stood your ground and stuck to your principles, sacrificing all you had to preserve Vetch’s Beach and Pier for all the people of Durban to enjoy. All the money in the world would have been of no value to us, if we did not have the beach. It was that simple. And you recognised that from the very beginning. For years you borne the brunt of the developer’s and our municipality’s wrath enduring many bleak and dark moments along the way, without ever losing your faith and focus to achieve your goals. The more the developers bullied and intimidated you, the more resilient you became, bonding closer and stronger together whilst maintaining your spirit, your dignity and your sense of humour throughout this struggle, to the very end. They threw everything they had at you, knocking you down on numerous occasions, but each time you managed to get up and fight on. These are such rare qualities found only in people who are prepared to fight for the things they believe. Take a bow my friends, you were simply fantastic! It was a real privilege and honour for me, to have been a part of you all during this real character testing period.
One hopes that the people of this city, and particularly the other users of this beach, appreciate your efforts and the sacrifices you made. I somehow doubt that, as still, so many people come down and enjoy this beach week in and week out, quite oblivious to the David and Goliath battle that took place right under their feet. But you know what? That’s life! Let’s just live with the satisfaction that we, on our little own, armed with nothing but a little bit of courage, preserved a piece of paradise in our city for our children and for future generations to enjoy just as we and our forefathers have done for so many years. The main thing is that the people that really matter know exactly who did what. That’s good enough for me. Now that the war is over and the threat of being evicted and sequestrated is gone, let’s just relax and enjoy our beach, our paddling and our fishing, which, come to think of it, is actually all we ever wanted to do in the first place.