Ready to take off

2009-09-30 00:00

THE world is in a state of socio­economic turmoil. As part of the close-knit global world, South Africa shares that turmoil, but it has its own special problems too: particularly the need to stabilise its young democracy and to expand its wealth and its opportunities, and to spread them more equitably among the whole population.

And within South Africa each region has its own specific issues.

In this article I shall focus on Pieter­maritzburg, the Msunduzi Municipality. For a number of years after 1990 this area was almost­ in the doldrums in terms of social and economic development. Partly because of the processes of rationalisation, it was overshadowed by Durban, which (for all its problems) was developing quite rapidly. Then about eight years ago things changed, and Maritzburg began to grow quickly, more quickly than almost anywhere else in South Africa. But then the great economic downturn hit us all, and Maritzburg, like many other places, finds itself groping again. And the old pressing issues are still there too — poverty, unemployment, food security and crime.

Some people believe that socio­economic development is largely a matter of chance: things will just work out well or badly, and we can do little about it. It is true, of course, that there is always an element of unpredictability in the workings of socioeconomics. But there can be no doubt that strong leadership and careful planning can and do make things happen. Almost all of the success stories that we read about have been precisely planned.

And a fair number of people from Maritzburg, together with a number of people from elsewhere, are at this moment focusing their attention and their talents on the economic, social and cultural challenges and opportunities offered by the region of the Msunduzi Municipality, which in 2011 is to become a metro. The work that is taking place is being co-ordinated by an important new organisation, the Msunduzi Innovation and Development Institute (Midi), which, in a valuable pooling of human resources and expertise, is owned and governed jointly by the Pietermaritzburg Chamber of Business, the University of KwaZulu-Natal and the Msunduzi Municipality.

What they are working towards is a strategic city summit, which is to take place on October 20 and 21 at the Three Cities Hotel Conference Centre at the Golden Horse Complex. It is entitled “Living the Future: Pietermaritzburg-Msunduzi 2010 to 2030 — Positioning Metropolitan Pietermaritzburg in the Global Economy.”

There are many crucial issues to discuss. Economic development must go hand in hand with social development — the advancement of people, all people. Pietermaritzburg lies on the N3 between the largest port in Africa and the largest commercial powerhouse in Africa. How can it make the most of its position? What should its attitude be towards the limitations of the airport?

How should it stand on the question of urban agriculture and in relation to the agriculture on the farms that surround it on every­ side? How can we make sure that local citizens will be properly and affordably fed? With the general shortage of skills and competence, how can this area make the best use of its great educational institutions? Msunduzi is a part of the South African Cities Network (SACN), which brings together the country’s nine largest urban areas­. How can it learn from the other big cities? In what ways, particularly, should it work closely with eThekwini (Durban)? How can we create and maintain an entre­preneurial climate here that will prevent people from mig­rating to Gauteng or overseas? And how can we diversify our economy and create a business-friendly environment that will prepare us for the influx of urbanising citizens in the next five to 10 years? And what of the environment? And of cultural activities, and sport and recreation?

The summit is not going to be a mere talk shop, and it is not going to attempt to deal with all of these issues. It is going to lead to a focus on specific plans and projects. Besides talks by and discussions among local leaders in a variety of fields, and brief addresses by significant provincial and local municipal leaders, there will be a keynote address by Pietermaritzburg’s Yunus Carrim, the deputy minister for Co-operative Governance and Traditional Affairs, who will speak about the significance of current and future local government legislation. There will also be keynote address­es by Dr Mamphele Ramphele, who will underline the relevance of the Dinokeng Scenarios; Sithole Mbanga, the CEO of SACN; Omar Latiff (also a Pietermaritzburger) from the Development Bank of South Africa; and Professor Rob Fincham, who has been working on many of the key local issues.

It seems reasonable to hope that this summit may prove truly momentous in the life of the future Msunduzi Metro. Plenty of thought and enthusiastic commitment has gone into the process leading up to the summit.

A well-attended preliminary economic seminar was held last week, and a mini-summit on the local food value chain will take place on October 13.

Msunduzi must be ready to take off.

• More information about the summit and registration forms are available at www.midi.org.za

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