Hold the celebrations

2008-05-24 00:00

The suggestion that the Msunduzi Municipality should become a metro was first put forward in the nineties, so Thursday’s announcement by the chairman of the Municipal Demarcation Board that this is finally to happen was welcomed with excitement by council’s executive committee (Exco). Exco anticipates a substantial boost to the city coffers from the national government and says Pietermaritzburg will be known worldwide as one of South Africa’s nine major cities, a valuable branding and marketing tool.

Although many, including this newspaper, which has long supported the metro campaign, will welcome the news, there are certain reservations and it might be wise for Exco not to get overexcited at this stage. For there are several matters outstanding, the most obvious of which is that the metro is not a fait accompli, because due process isn’t yet complete: the proposal hasn’t yet been finalised by way of an announcement in the Government Gazette. Before that can happen a 30-day period must elapse during which the public may lodge objections and make suggestions.

And it’s not difficult to guess what the most persistent and pressing of those objections and suggestions will be. Recalling that the original campaign for a metro was premised on the incorporation of Howick and Hilton, and acknowledging that these smaller conurbations have virtually become suburbs of Pietermaritzburg in the interim, many will demand to know why they have been excluded from the proposed metro. What is the logic (if any) behind the decision to keep the Msunduzi boundaries unchanged? Surely the metro concept was aimed at creating a coherent economic unit, with territory stretching from Howick inland to Camperdown nearer the coast? Either these things must be satisfactorily explained or the plan needs to be modified to include the smaller municipalities so that the Msunduzi Metro can become the powerful entity it should be.

Other questions asked by the public may be more embarrassing. For example, Exco is gloating over the expected injection of funds from the government, forgetting that the municipality is already unable to spend its existing budget. Is it equipped to manage and spend wisely funds concomitant with metro status? Another point is that, as the eThekwini Metro has amply demonstrated, that status demands high standards of performance from councillors and other officials: they carry a heavy burden of responsibility. Will those in Pietermaritzburg be able to rise above their variously sectarian differences to work together as one on the important plans and decisions that drive a metro-sized city? Shall we see an end to the miserable squabbling, backbiting and pettiness so familiar to us from reports of council meetings? Let us hope the answer to these questions is an honest “Yes”.

Not to seem grudging, but it looks as if it may be a long while before unbridled jubilation is in order.

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