Cornubia is a R25 billion, 1300ha development 25km north of Durban, bordered by the N2, the M41 and the Ohlanga River near uMhlanga, the largest sustainable integrated human settlement initiative in KwaZulu-Natal.

Human Integration

Tongaat Hulett is actively involved in diversifying its sugarcane productive land to include other initiatives in its portfolio. The company has already sold just over half of the land to the eThekwini Municipality.

Cornubia – situated along Durban’s fast-growing north corridor, close to uMhlanga and the airport – is set to be the municipality and province’s largest integrated human settlement initiative. It is a joint venture between the national and provincial Departments of Human Settlements, the eThekwini Municipality and Tongaat Hulett Development.

According to Nathan Iyer of Iyer Urban Design Studio, the lead urban planner on the project, “its economic potential is enormous and businesses are confident to invest in this area”.

The Cornubia Business Hub, spanning 85 000m2, developed by Tongaat Hulett, was launched in August 2014, sold by September, and the principal shareholder in this consortium is Paulos Ngcobo.

“The most striking sustainability feature of this project is its scale,” says Iyer. “It is not so much that the buildings are sustainably built, but the integration of housing, with social amenities and closeness of work opportunities. Cornubia may well be the first real attempt of this scale at overcoming apartheid-era planning.”

Diverse Living

Housing density in the area was increased to reduce the negative aspects of low-density sprawl, often seen in low-cost housing. The increase in density allows for a more efficient use of services. Iyer says, “An integrated network of public spaces and courtyards provide relief to this dense and compact environment.”

To Iyer, adopting this overall approach is more important than individual fixations and implementing certain green technologies. “It is all very nice to have a green building, but it does not make sense when it is not integrated and you still have to use your car to get to work. That said, we do have guidelines in place for businesses that come to the area,” he says.

Sanjay Sathnarayan of LDM, who is the eThekwini Municipality’s project manager for Cornubia Phase 2, says, “In Cornubia a resident can live, work and play all within the confines of the project boundary. Moreover, Cornubia has been adopted as a zone that will maximise employment opportunities through job creation initiatives.”

In addition to housing, 90ha of land is being developed as a business park within the first phase. Two clusters comprising two primary schools, a secondary school and a multi-purpose hall are included in Phase 1. A regional shopping centre is on the cards too.

Iyer says: “The business park will target a wide range of developers from across the city as it is intended for larger scale developments. It is envisaged that this will contribute to permanent jobs for future residents of Cornubia.”


With Cornubia being a mixed-use, mixed-income development, a diverse range of housing is envisaged to accommodate low- to middle-income earners. Almost half of the 28 000 planned houses will be subsidised units.

These units will managed by eThekwini Municipality and allocated based on vulnerability, according to Oscar Kunene, senior manager: eThekwini Municipality Northern Region. “The aim is to have all these houses occupied as soon as possible.”

“Currently, occupation is about 80% of the 470 houses already built, delayed by verification of some of the beneficiaries,” Kunene says. This initiative aims to remove a significant number of informal settlements across the area. “Cornubia may be the first of many similar developments, as this one project cannot resolve the housing backlog in the area,” says Iyer.

The mixed-use, mixed-income set-up compels the various spheres of government to partner with the private sector. Public sector departments are providing some of the halls, schools, clinics, crèches and policing, while national government will provide medical facilities. The industrial nodes, higher income housing and commercial property are developed by the private sector.

Zero Unemployment

The public-private partnership introduced a zero unemployment initiative. Bongani Gumede, Tongaat Hulett’s corporate director, explains: “Our programme involves packaging more customised opportunities and skills upliftment to facilitate matched access.”

The Cornubia Development Steering Committee – representing the three spheres of government and Tongaat Hulett – recently approved the upgrading of a temporary Incubation and Empowerment Centre, a structure that coordinates the socio-economic interventions in the area.

Currently, a substantial number of residents are working on construction sites in Cornubia through the Jobs Link Desk. Gumede says construction in the area will not go on forever: “The entire development, though, is expected to create approximately 43 000 new sustainable jobs as well as 387 000 short-term construction jobs over a 15-year period.”

Gumede adds: “Although we have set ourselves a zero unemployment goal, the emphasis is on securing household income rather than individual employment. The latter depends largely on individual choices and circumstances and we cannot manage that.”

Phase 2 is currently being launched. The same parties are involved, although the bulk of the work will go out to tender. The project has changed the skyline of uMhlanga and time will tell if it also manages to improve the lives of the poor in the area.


The full feature appears in the February-March 2015 issue.