City’s historic summit

2009-10-21 00:00

AN enthusiastic turnout of over 200 delegates heralded the start of the two-day Pietermaritzburg-Msunduzi Strategic City Summit at the Golden Horse Casino yesterday.

Both the talks and the discussion were robust, frank and, according to many delegates, inspiring.

Msunduzi Deputy Mayor Mervyn Dirks described the summit as “historic”.

This is the first time there is such a broad cross-section of citizens of Pietermaritzburg who have come together not to criticise the local municipality, but to look at how we can work together,” said Dirks.

The keynote speaker, author and academic Dr Mamphela Ramphele, praised the Msunduzi Innovation and Development Institute (Midi) and the summit as fantastic initiatives.

She said that bringing together academics, business people and the municipality fits into the Dinokeng scenario of “walking together”. Dinokeng was a think-tank made up of 35 leading South Africans who met in August last year to develop a collective vision for the country.

Ramphele said walking together is the toughest of the three scenarios.

Citizens have to take responsibility and realise they are in charge of this democracy and not leave the running of the show to the people they voted into office, she said.

“We all have to put aside narrow self-interest to work for the common good.”

Ramphele said the challenges going forward include asking: “Do we have the will to build one nation and how do we manage race?”

She said the future entails tough choices. “We will need to move out of our comfort zones, create mixed residential areas, not artifically but sustainably. How are you thinking about this?” she asked.

KZN MEC for Finance Ina Cronje also touched on the aspect of non-racial cities.

She said that previously Pietermaritzburg, divided along racial lines, could have been called four cities. The city we are re-imaging has to be one city that serves all its people, she added.

A current hot potato — the re-think of Msunduzi’s metro status — came up.

Sithole Mbanga, CEO of the South African Cities Network, said: “In 2002 we said Msunduzi is a metro and has characteristics of a metro in that it was attracting people and was the site of economic activity.

“In 2009, we are still discussing whether it’s a metro or not … Metro has to be about its importance to the health of the country, not about who wants to be mayor,” he said.

Municipal manager Rob Haswell told the gathering that South Africa is a constitutional democracy , which means that the citizens have a say,

“We need to think boldly and act on that. The future is entirely up to us,” he said.

For Ramphele, a big challenge in moving forward is corruption.

She said she is waiting for the day when the president will ban all civil servants from owning businesses. “We cannot have public money going into wabenzis.”

Mbanga said research done by the Cities Network shows that in many instances corruption both originates and is controlled from the private sector. He said there has to be a “corrupter and a corruptee”.

Haswell said he wants it put on record that in the years that he has been involved in local government he never solicited nor contemplated a bribe.

He added that public servants have to declare their business interests and that he insists that his managers disclose their interests.

However, he added, councillors in the Msunduzi Municipality have a bad record of failing to disclose their business interests.

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