(Published in THE MERCURY, 29/10/15)
The drive to re-establish the collapsed textile and manufacturing industries in KwaZulu-Natal is gaining traction as multibillion-rand developments get under way in Hammarsdale, outside Durban.
Work on a R1.1 billion Mr Price central distribution facility is well advanced and the eThekwini Municipality, SA National Roads Agency and KZN provincial government have thrown their weight behind attractive investment packages to lure private business, Hammarsdale is on the rise again.
Once the epicentre of South Africa’s textile sector; which reportedly employed tens of thousands, Hammarsdale became a ghost town post-democracy as cheap imports flooded the country, devastating a major contributor to South Africa’s gross domestic product.
Between 1970 and the late 1990s, what was known as a governmental “decentralised” zone, Hammarsdale has eight textile mills, a string of shoes factories and supporting industries.
When the textile industry collapsed, vast warehousing and factory buildings were mothballed and unemployment in the neighbouring Mpumalanga township rocketed to one of the highest in the province.
The building lay derelict and abandoned for years, with companies such as towel manufacturer Glodina and the specialist manmade continuous filament yarn manufacturer Gelvenor Textiles among the few that managed to ride out the lean years.
The head of communication at the city, Tozi Mthethwa, said funding from the National Treasury’s neighbourhood development programme was specifically aimed at attracting private investment to the greater Hammarsdale area, which included the sprawling Mpumalanga township, the Keystone (Mr Price) development and Bartlett Farms.
She said bulk infrastructure and urban improvements in the Mpumalanga town centre were completed, including the construction of the R250 million retail mall Hammarsdale Junction.
Construction of a three-lane interchange at the N3 and MR385 into Hammarsdale should be completed by the end of 2019.
She said the upgrades and concomitant private investment stood to benefit about 120 000 people in Mpumalanga, where at least 41% of the people were unemployed with most of them under the age of 25.
Mr Price’s Mark Blair said the retail giant had bought 23ha where it ultimately planned to have 100 000m² distribution facility under one roof.
The first 56 000m² together with a 12 000m² container yard was already under construction.
“The investment is a catalyst for other development in the immediate area as it has validated the precinct,” he said.
Although the Mr Price group originally bought land at Cato Ridge for development, Blair said the move to Hammarsdale was mooted because of better infrastructure.
“The Keystone development precinct is a larger serviced scheme as opposed to Cato Ridge, where we would have stood alone and had to have installed all services,” he said.
Industrial property estate agent Keith Wilson, who has lived and worked in the Hammarsdale area for more than 30 years, said property prices were responding to the increased interest.
“Four years ago, industrial land here was selling at about R12/m². Now it’s closer to R25/m²,” he said.
“In Pinetown you cannot get industrial land for less that R1 000/m². That makes Hammarsdale still very attractive to industrial developers,” he said.
Wilson said a residential development was also on the cards.
Chesney Lloyd, who expanded his co-owned Just Refrigeration Products plant to Hammarsdale two years ago, said improved labour relations were critical for the success of the industrial zone.
“We have had some bad experiences. We have moved all our administrative staff back to Pinetown and opened another factory in Phoenix so that we are not entirely dependent on the operation at Hammarsdale.”
He said it was critical that the Hammarsdale factories employ locals and any operation moving into that area must take that into account.
Bheko Madlala, a spokesman for the provincial Economic Development Department, said the Hammarsdale-Cato Ridge area had been earmarked as having potential for an inland logistics port.
He said that the site of the port was dependant on the finalisation of the N3 spatial corridor plan, but the progress of identifying parcels of land for industrial development focused primarily on logistics and export development was advanced.