June 7, 2019
Many saw the Carte Blanche expose about the crime and grime on Durban’s beachfront as a hatchet job. Others, like Pastor Robert Ntuli, saw the current affairs TV show’s investigation as a worthy challenge
Debbie Reynolds Author Image

I was among the chorus of passionate Durbanites who rallied against the Carte Blanche story which aired on November 18 last year under the banner “Goodbye Durban?”

The teaser read: “Holidays are approaching with an estimated two-million holidaymakers descending on Durban’s beaches. But the once beautiful sandy beaches are now littered with heroin needles and shards of broken glass from bottles smashed to make crack pipes.

“In the midst of this, the city is planning an R39-billion facelift along the coastal promenade. Carte Blanche investigates how Durban’s beachfront precinct could put the health and safety of visitors at risk.”

My argument was that I used the Durban beach and promenade extensively and personally hadn’t seen any “heroin needles and crack pipes”. In fact, except for a few days of the year, I hardly see any litter at all.

Put in context, however, the issue was more about what went on just behind the Golden Mile – the problems of prostitution, human trafficking, crime and drugs that had plagued the CBD for years. Quickly weighing in on the debate was an organisation called City Story, which posted a video on social media on December 4 urging concerned citizens to stop “turning a blind eye”, and promising that in four years it would invite media TV crews back to the city to report “not on urban decay, but on urban regeneration”.

Robert Ntuli is on the steering committee of City Story, described as a “collective of passionate Durbanites who see the city’s destiny as being a great city to grow up in and grow old in”.

“What Carte Blanche did was upsetting, but it made us see the problem afresh and it was the disruption we needed to provoke us into action,” says Ntuli. “It was good in that it fell into a structure that already existed to replace urban rot with urban renewal.”

Ntuli says City Story was established about four years ago by a network of Christian business people and friends who shared a vision to transform and regenerate the city they love. He was recruited in 2016 to broaden the group’s skills set and to head up the “spiritual sphere”.

“City Story consists of five spheres, being business and economy, government, education, family and church,” says Ntuli. “We see it is a faith-based community of courage that is taking the idea of redemption and renewal from our personal lives into a wider city space.

“It’s about building relationships with everyone who lives in our city and uplifting its citizens to be responsible and to take ownership of their space. We can’t just keep folding our arms and hoping the politicians are going to do it for us.” The Durban CBD/beachfront cleanup is one of their first hands-on projects and, thanks to the December appeal asking for committed volunteers, around 2 000 people raised their hands.

“People have promised everything from their skills and resources to time and funding,” says Ntuli. “We have a steering committee which is driving the process using our website, city-story.org, and online platforms.” Using the official 11 municipal zones, the team is currently conducting physical audits to identify key assets and challenges, what works, what doesn’t, what’s messy and unsafe and what needs fixing.

With the assistance of all stakeholders and with improved community involvement, they hope to identify and jointly action projects which will uplift the city, contributing to an enjoyable and memorable experience for all its citizens. Ntuli can’t talk enough about his passion for uniting and uplifting people and sharing his faith.

“Faith is personal, but it shouldn’t be private,” he says. “Our Jerusalem is Durban and our faith needs to find public expression here by connecting people and expanding our relationships. In a very practical sense, that is what City Story represents.”

Ntuli grew up near Empangeni on the KZN North Coast and did his Bachelor of Administration at the University of Zululand before coming to work in Durban in 1997. “My father was a pastor, so I was raised in a Christian family, but I never really had a calling until early 2000,” he says.

“By then I was working for Unilever in the team responsible for Royco brands and loving every minute of it. But then my heart changed and I realised my passion was the business of people.” After a period of reflection back home, Ntuli returned to Durban with his wife Zamo, whom he had met doing ministry work, and started the Living Stones Agency church.

“We meet at Howard College on Sundays at 9.30am, but our community goes far beyond the Sunday morning service,” he says. “For me it’s a tragedy when that is all it is about. It should be about connecting with other human beings and working together for our collective well-being. “My passion has always been about the humanity aspect which is why working with City Story makes so much sense. We’re not just about ticking off a to-do list, but rather about transforming the human space.”

 

*Many saw the Carte Blanche expose about the crime and grime on Durban’s beachfront as a hatchet job. Others, like Pastor Robert Ntuli, saw the current affairs TV show’s investigation as a worthy challenge, writes Debbie Reynolds

This story appeared in KZN INVEST. Get a free copy of the magazine at www.gregarde.com

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