The long-awaited Ezibeleni Mall may soon be realised as construction is due to start at the end of this month.
The mall has been in the pipeline for nearly 20-years, suffering setbacks and never getting off the ground. Ian van Dyk, who has been driving the project, sourcing investors and communicating with the municipality, said all the hurdles had been cleared and within a year the complex should open its doors.
“When the idea was first aired the land was still under the national government. Over the years we have carefully monitored it until it was approved by the local municipal council. This will be a win for citizens as they have been the ones driving the initiative. We have sourced investors and now we are at the stage of having meetings in communities,” said Van Dyk.
Project manager Tony Hayman said completion is due in May next year and that the anchor tenant had been secured. “We have started the stakeholder engagement and in the next two weeks we will clear the site, fence it and do piling to start with the foundations. That should take us to the end of this year and then in the New Year we will start with the top structure.
“The target date for occupation is end of May. The anchor tenant is Shoprite and they will have 60 days to do their shop fitting,” said Hayman.
He said they had decided to get board with the mall after they launched a similar project in Cacadu. “We bought a shopping centre in Lady Frere and used to drive past Ezibeleni on our way to East London and wonder why such a large community did not have such an essential service. We did our homework and spoke to some of the retailers in Komani and the response was positive. Part of what we do is make shops available for local businessmen, it is not about the big nationals. We want to create opportunities and grow the community,” said Hayman.
Border-Kei Chamber of Business executive director, Lizelle Maurice said such developments were a boost for local citizens. “Developments like shopping malls always bring new economic opportunities to a suburb. New malls always unlock great economic potential for a city as more jobs are created. The minute you create jobs you contribute to the community and decrease poverty because people earn an income and lives are improved,” she said.
Not all are optimistic about the project, however, with some residents doubting its veracity.
Queenstown Uncedo Service Taxi Association acting chairman Siphelo Maselani said he was not aware that the mall was due for construction and that they were sceptical for what it would mean for the taxi industry.
“I am not aware that construction may finally be happening, However, from first hearing about this is we are sceptical that it will have benefits for us. We can expect our industry to take a knock because people will not travel to town. I will take this to our members for discussion,” he said.
The same sentiments were echoed by the Independent Komani Residents’ Association (Ikora) which said it may be another election ploy.
“We are happy on one side because residents need it. We are sceptical because this can be yet another election ploy to get people thinking something might change. I know there was a time the site was cleared yet that halted and never moved forward. The question for us is how local industries will benefit. For instance, Ezibeleni does not even have a taxi rank something that will have to be considered,” said Ikora secretary Thulani Bukani.
Themba resident, Lunga Tsotsi said delays in the project had discouraged many people. “I have been here for almost 30-years and have not seen any development. Instead what little we have is falling away. If it is really happening it will be a welcome change. We have to go to Komani for minor things and if we can at least have a place to buy food and medicine it will be a step forward,” he said.
Ward 7 councillor Lonwabo Nondyola said the benefits would be tangible for the youth. “We need a mall. It has been spoken about for a long time. We are meeting with the investors who will inform us about the way forward. People of Ezibeleni have been waiting a long time. Not having a complex in the area is a huge disadvantage because people have to go to town for minor things. We are excited because this means opportunities for youth to be employed.”