The economic downturn combined with tax rebates for owners of central city buildings who renovate them are helping conserve KwaZulu-Natal’s historic buildings.
“It’s not widely known that all structures older than 60 years, however humble, are generally protected throughout the province and that a permit must be obtained from Amafa to demolish, alter or add onto them,” says Ros Devereux, built environment expert for the provincial heritage body.
“Owners and developers are not always aware of this until plans are submitted to their local municipality who must forward them to us.”
Devereux receives up to 50 permit applications a month, a growing number because of the current trend to add-on and renovate rather than sell and buy up. This process has now been speeded up to a return time of three weeks for most structures.
“We’re also delighted to see many buildings in three Durban zones and Pietermaritzburg central being renovated and restored rather than demolished and the sites redeveloped,” she says. “This is because the SA Revenue Services recently offered tax rebates for costs in an effort to rejuvenate inner city areas.
“Built structures in KZN have three levels of protection. The highest is the Heritage Landmark/Provincial Heritage Landmark (former national monument) status like the Durban City Hall currently undergoing façade restoration, the Post Office and the Pietermaritzburg City Hall and Post Office, historic sites and places of importance to the province.
“Most former national monuments now enjoy this status as only a few have had their national status reinstated. Then there are buildings and places listed in the 1980s surveys of individual towns which include churches, temples and residential buildings of local importance.
“The last tier of protection is a general one for all buildings over 60 years. These include wood and iron dwellings, verandah houses with traditional gables and bay windows, and Indian vernacular houses in suburbs like Clairwood. Even structures like pig sties, farm sheds, stables and former coach houses, and other out buildings are included.”
Amafa must give permission for any changes to any of these buildings or their surroundings. Applications for approval for demolition and or alterations and additions to these protected structures are assessed by a consultant panel of senior architects.
Devereux acts as the liaison with developers, passing on recommendations and helping cool the tempers of those frustrated by the process.
“We are not anti-development nor do we concentrate on colonial buildings,” she says. “We want to be inclusive of all important buildings and sites in our shared heritage and to identify and protect places related to the Struggle. John Dube’s house in Inanda and Albert Luthuli’s house in Groutville already enjoy the highest protection, but many sites and buildings connected with the struggle remain unprotected since they are less than 60 years old.
“Sadly much has already been lost: like in Cato Manor and Durban’s Block AK through forced removals. So when schoolchildren are taken to Cato Manor they find it hard to relate to the events that took place there because there is nothing left to see.
“We need these tangible reminders of our past. All the great cities of the world have layers upon layers reflecting past conquests and civilisations. In London you can see parts of the old Roman wall, in Rome the remains of the places where Christians were put to the lions.
“So buildings and sites can be put to new use and at the same time be protected by us to value for ever. Like the former wall of the old Durban prison, now the Human Rights Wall with its murals depicting the Draft Bill of Rights and the new S A Constitution.”
* The final deadline for building applications to Amafa for this year is December 3. Responses/permits will be issued by December 10. Applications received after December 3 will be considered after January 7 2009.