PMB: bigger is better

2008-05-08 00:00

The attainment of metropolitan status by our municipality is more important than capital status was to our city. By way of substantiation, let’s recall the two setbacks which our city suffered in 1994 — our annus horribilis.

Firstly, amid the general euphoria of our first democratic elections, the results in our province meant a clear preference for Ulundi to be the capital of KwaZulu-Natal. Suddenly, Pietermaritzburg’s slumbering complacency was replaced by uncertainty and the lack of investment which follows from declining confidence.

Secondly, in late 1994, it was decided that the Pietermaritzburg city council was not only a local, rather than a metropolitan, council, but to add insult to our damaged status our municipal boundaries were gerrymandered to exclude areas such as Ashburton, World’s View and Hilton, which are clearly suburbs of our city. That decision not only robbed our municipality of much-needed rates revenue, but it prevented the rationalisation of scarce financial and human re-sources and gave rise to a duplication of mayors, managers, councillors and officials, which those who live or work in our city could ill afford.

Consequently, it was vitally necessary to stimulate investment in our city’s economy — which we initiated with our city’s first investment conference in 2000 — and to form the capital coalition in 2004, which helped to secure our capital status in the elections of that year.

Almost overnight both internal and external confidence in our city soared. Major investments in commercial, residential, industrial and office developments saw turnover in our city’s economy double, insolvencies halve and formal unemployment decline. It is important to acknowledge that most of that was achieved by the private sector alone, with the cash-strapped Msunduzi Municipality having to offer incentives it could hardly afford.

But this unprecedented growth has also aggravated several of our city’s fundamental problems. Reduced to its simplest yet nevertheless significant form, the municipal area of 649 kilometres comprises: the developed area of the old borough — delineated in the 1840s; the poorly developed former townships of Greater Edendale, parts of which date back to the 1860s; and the semi-rural Vulindlela tribal area, set aside in 1848. Each of these three component areas of our urban system is home to about 200 000 people, and although each area contributes substantially to our city’s economy, neither Edendale nor Vulindlela —as a deliberate result of colonial and apartheid planning — contribute significantly to our municipality’s rates income.

Therefore, since 1994, our municipal rates income has been expected to both develop and maintain three times the area and population that it did historically — a very tall, if not impossible, order.

Furthermore, since 1994 an amount of close to R1 billion from business levies has accrued to our district municipality, despite the fact that 90% of that amount was generated by business in our city. It is important to appreciate that the accrual of levies, and more recently the replacement grant to district and metro municipalities, has facilitated almost lavish expenditure by those municipalities, in sharp contrast to impoverished local municipalities such as ours.

The eThekwini Municipality, which in 2006 alone received R570 million from business levies, has been able to undertake sizeable projects with such funding, such as the ICC and its arena extension, uShaka Marine World, King Shaka airport and the Moses Mabhida 2010 Stadium. By contrast, we have been hamstrung, not by a lack of ideas or needs — remember Pietermaritzburg 2000 — but by a lack of funds. In a real sense we have lost a decade and have been unable to transform substantially the spatial and economic inequalities that still characterise our disjointed urban system

It seems likely that a local development tax will become available to municipalities and that will mean that we benefit in direct proportion to the amount of development we attract and facilitate.

With this additional funding we will be able to contribute meaningfully to public and private partnerships, such that our growing city’s needs, which include a better airport, bigger produce market, more cemeteries, an improved sanitation and transportation system, a revamped theatre and a modern indoor arena, are met, while the private sector in return obtains access to key development opportunities — not just alongside the N3, but throughout our metro area.

We simply have to bring development to Edendale and Vulindlela. We simply have to improve access from the Northdale area to the central area and all of this can be planned and funded once we are a metro.

There is a growing realisation that the government cannot do it alone and that the careful co-ordination of public and private investments is essential if we are to eliminate backlogs and build more equitable, more efficient and more sustainable cities.

Memoranda of Understanding can only take us so far and exciting projects — such as how to make our city safer for children — require funding. Each of our city’s impressive home-grown events can be elevated into international events, once we have the necessary funding.

Currently, there is only one urban agglomeration in Africa which is ranked among the world’s significant city regions, and that is Gauteng. Increasingly, the global economy is based not so much on countries, or nation states, but in city regions, and the eThekwini-Msunduzi twin-cities region could well become our country’s second global economic player.

Our city’s elevation to a metro therefore has provincial, national and even international significance. What matters most on the global stage is not that you are a political capital, but how well you compete, and that rests on being investor-friendly and assisting competitive firms.

The attainment of metro status will also enable our city to interact and plan with eThekwini as equals and to take its rightful place within our spheres of government. Importantly we will have direct access to the provincial and national spheres and this will facilitate, for instance, a more focused and branded tourism identity. Currently, we tend to compete with rather than complement Durban’s efforts.

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