PMB is a place with soul

2012-04-13 00:00

A RECENT editorial in this newspaper (“Cry the Beloved City”, The Witness, April 4) enumerated the many dramatic failures of the Msunduzi Municipality — poor service delivery, political infighting, financial collapse — but noted that the municipality was now catering for a far larger and more socially varied number of people than in the past, and that the situation was not hopeless: “So far there have been encouraging signs that the new leadership — Mayor Chris Ndlela and Municipal Manager Mxolisi Nkosi — are aware of the daunting challenges they face. What is urgently needed is for this awareness to be translated into action. It is only then that Pietermaritzburg will once again become, in [Alan] Paton’s words, ‘the lovely city’ with the dignity and stature it deserves.”

Wise statements. I would like to add a further perspective by recalling that there is far more to Pietermaritzburg than electricity, water, refuse, streets with potholes (now mercifully beginning to be filled), tariffs, billing, street-cleaning and grass-cutting — the items that, quite correctly, make the headlines in the local media.

Pietermaritzburg and the whole of the Msunduzi Municipality — and indeed the wider district municipality of uMgungundlovu — is a place with a soul, a spirit, and a history or a number of histories which feed into this spirit.

Paradoxically some of the letters to the editor of this newspaper, letters which complain vociferously and justifiably that the city is going to the dogs, are eloquent testimonies to the fact that the place is vibrantly alive.

This varied social and intellectual life is something that one becomes aware of as one walks the streets of the CBD (littered though they often are), or the broad corridors of the Liberty Midlands Mall (which are always immaculately clean), or if one visits the Library or the Tatham Art Gallery, both near the city hall. One becomes aware of it as one considers the local university campuses and the many schools of different kinds and sizes (the most outstanding of which are among the best in the country). Besides all this, the city region has an impressive number of religious institutions, social clubs, sports clubs and book clubs. And it has its own fine daily newspaper.

Then, moving briefly from social achievements to physical advantages, one must remember that Pietermaritzburg is large enough to be a city and yet small enough for one to be able to get from one part of it to another fairly swiftly. Even a trip to Elandskop on the far west of Msunduzi does not take very long. Added to all this is the remarkable beauty of the whole area, with its lovely surrounding hills, and the fascinating difference between the soils and the rainfall on the northern and southern sides of the terrain.

There is also another most important point: the Msunduzi Municipality is remarkably rich in NGOs, non-governmental organisations that are privately funded and enhance the life of society and of many individuals in crucial ways. Many of these NGOs were quietly on show on March 27 at the gathering at which the Pietermaritzburg and District Community Chest announced its annual allocations. There are five Community Chests in South Africa: ours is one of them, and it has been going for more than 50 years. In the financial year that has just ended it collected just under R3 million, and every cent collected goes to beneficiaries. This time there were 64 such beneficiaries, covering the fields of child and family welfare; care of the elderly; those affected by HIV/Aids, the disabled and the homeless; community services; poverty alleviation; early childhood development; pupils with special needs; health care support; and crime prevention and substance abuse. But there are other strong welfare bodies, like the justly famous Gift of the Givers and Cindi (Children in Distress), and there are many other strong local NGOs which fall outside the remit of the Community Chest — for example, Midi (the Msunduzi Innovation and Development Institute), BESG (the Built Environment Support Group) and Pacsa (the Pietermaritzburg Agency for Christian Social Awareness). Within all these bodies there are to be found energy, intelligence and dedication. But we must not be complacent about our NGOs. With the current global economic crisis, almost all of them are having funding difficulties.

Still, there is a great deal to be aware of and to be grateful for. Pietermaritzburg is in no danger of disappearing from the South African or indeed the world map. But in saying all this I don’t want in any way to minimise the importance of getting the performance of the Msunduzi Municipality into top gear.

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