Strange boundaries

2008-05-15 00:00

Last week Rob Haswell, the Msunduzi municipal manager, wrote a powerful and convincing article about the need for the Msunduzi Municipality to be reclassified as a Metro.

Last week Rob Haswell, the Msunduzi municipal manager, wrote a powerful and convincing article about the need for the Msunduzi Municipality to be reclassified as a Metro.

He showed that such a change would be just and fair, and that, because of the way in which national funds are dispensed, it would bring great benefits to the citizens of the new metro. One needs to add, in case bringing benefits to local citizens sounds selfish, that this would mean both giving a big new boost to the many poor people in the greater Edendale area and in Vulindlela — as Haswell pointed out — and also offering new opportunities for growth and employment to everyone in the KwaZulu-Natal midlands, since economic development, once it gets going, tends to spread like a benevolent contagion.

In this article I want to reinforce what Haswell said, and add a few further considerations.

He speaks of the disappointment of the 1994 demarcation, when (as he puts it) “our municipal boundaries were gerrymandered to exclude areas such as Ashburton, World’s View and Hilton, which are clearly suburbs of our city.” I agree, but under that national demarcation there were still a large number of tiny municipalities. More disappointing, surely, was the demarcation which came into existence with the local elections of December 2000, when the new municipal legislation (the Municipal Structures Act and the Municipal Systems Act) came into operation. This was to be the moment of consolidation, when the small municipalities would be, where possible, incorporated into something larger. This did happen in many parts of the country, but not in the Pietermaritzburg area. Ashburton did indeed become a part of Msunduzi, but the Hilton area and Howick went to form the economic core of the new uMngeni Municipality. This represented a distinct aberration on the part of the Demarcation Board. The two other cities that are very similar in size to Pietermaritzburg (Msunduzi) are East London (Buffalo City) and Bloemfontein (Mangaung). In both cases the new municipal boundaries include not only the whole urban area, with all its economic nodes, but a wide sweep beyond.

Here, however, there is the remarkable phenomenon that one can stand in the middle of the city and look at the prominent nearby World’s View, and recognise sadly that it is in another municipality. It is extraordinary; as far as I know there is nothing like it anywhere else in the country. It is as if Naval Hill in Bloemfontein were arbitrarily assigned to some other jurisdiction.

But now common sense seems likely to prevail, and one trusts that Camperdown, Ashburton, the whole of Pietermaritzburg, Edendale, Vulindlela, Hilton, Mphop-homeni and Howick will become a single metro. Some other towns may perhaps be included as well.

The idea of turning Msunduzi into a Metro is not a new one. Some years ago the Department of Provincial and Local Government established the South African Cities Network. This brought together the six Metros: Johannesburg, Cape Town, eThekwini (Durban), Tswane (Pretoria), Nelson Mandela (Port Elizabeth) and Ekhuruleni (East Rand). But also included were the three municipalities sometimes called “aspirant Metros”: Msunduzi, Buffalo City and Mangaung. These are the nine major conurbations of South Africa, which together produce 75% of the country’s wealth.

One has to add that, with recent economic development, other cities are beginning to stake their claim. But Msunduzi, with an enlarged area and an active population and with the far greater subsidies which go with Metro status, will certainly be able to hold its own in the top league.

The Pietermaritzburg area is renowned for its university and its many schools. The university plays a part in a remarkable, perhaps unique institution which has been fairly quietly in existence for a year or two but will before long be launching itself with some modest panache. It is called Midi — the Msunduzi Innovation and Development Initiative. It brings together three different but complementary forms of dynamism: the Msunduzi Municipality, the local branch of the University of KwaZulu-Natal, and the Pietermaritzburg Chamber of Business. In other words, the public sector, the private sector, and what one might perhaps call the intellectual and imaginative sector.

Some degree of co-operation between these three spheres at the local level is not uncommon, but what is striking about Midi is that here in Pietermaritzburg this co-operation, this partnership, has been formalised, and has already been able to access local and overseas funds. Midi’s very existence is an instance of the kind of innovation that it plans to foster. It is about to embark on a number of significant projects, but I shall not mention them here. Watch this space, and various other spaces.

Midi is an instance of the ways in which the enlarged Msunduzi municipal structure will be able to be competitive by both national and international standards.

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