Best city shortlist for Durban ‘a scam’

2014-07-09 00:00

DURBAN is a finalist on a supposedly prestigious list of the world’s best cities — but critics call it a “scam” and are warning Durbanites to consider not voting for their own city.

Yesterday, the Swiss-based New7Wonders Foundation announced that Durban had been “voted through” to a shortlist of 21 cities from an initial 77 nominees, alongside Barcelona and Shenzhen, for a possible title as a “New7Wonders City” in December.

The shortlist generated excited newspaper and political response yesterday among other finalists, from Vigan in the Philippines to Mumbai in India.

And, yesterday, Durban Tourism head Philip Sithole was pleased by the shortlisting, and said: “This campaign has a lot of support behind it and the organisation seems credible, whether it is backed by the UN or not.”

However, former South African diplomat Glenn Babb, who first triggered the Cape Town listing debate, yesterday echoed a growing number of international critics in denouncing the campaign as “a money-making racket which preys on our desire to be recognised, and offers nothing in return”.

“If you’ve got a few rands to throw away for an SMS then I guess its okay, but what is the benefit beyond being on a website no one looks at?” he said.

In 2007, city councillors and radio stations encouraged thousands of Cape Town residents to spend money on text message votes for Table Mountain’s inclusion in the New7Wonders of Nature list.

In April this year, Sabine Lehmann, managing director of Table Mountain Cableway, said its winning listing that year had played a role in its record number of visitors last year.

But Babb said: “There is absolutely no way to assess the impact of a listing on a website which has no official status, and which Unesco has in fact denounced.”

He said the claimed 100 million votes received for the 2007 competition represented a “fortune” in text message profits, and suggested that the for-profit business that administers voting for the non-profit foundation was benefiting.

Babb also questioned the “democratic” public voting procedures, which suggest that more Durbanites have already voted in a little-known campaign than major cities that did not make the cut, including Kyoto and Athens.

Yesterday, Eamonn Fitzgerald, spokesperson for New7Wonders, said: “Durban got to be in the latest round of 21 finalists in the campaign thanks to getting enough votes. As you know, Durban is one of the poorest urban areas in South Africa, but we strive to portray the positives in this story.”

Referring to foundation head Bernard Weber, Unesco released an earlier statement saying: “There is no comparison between Mr Weber’s mediatised campaign and the scientific and educational work done for heritage by the UN … This initiative cannot, in any significant and sustainable manner, contribute to the preservation of sites elected by this public.”

When asked about an earlier shortlisting in October last year, Durban mayor James Nxumalo said the nomination was further evidence of the city’s international appeal.

Yesterday, the city’s head of communication, Tozi Mthethwa, said she was not aware of the campaign.

One leading global critic, attorney Michael Hodson, alleged that “[Weber] just made the whole thing up”, and was profiting on cities in particularly developing countries that “are desperate in these economic times to give a boost to their county’s tourism income”.

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