Summit builds dialogue platform

2009-10-22 00:00

THE city is officially talking, which is being widely hailed as an achievement in itself. But it still has some way to go before a coherent and inclusive vision for its long-term development is reached.

The final day of the Pietermaritzburg-Msunduzi Strategic City Summit ended with a commitment to further talks and support for the Midi-inspired process, but with no clear agreement yet on the future direction of the City of Choice.

SA Cities Network CEO Sithole Mbanga urged delegates to build on the momentum, but said a process is needed to allow delegates “more time for thorough and in-depth conversations in the key focus groups”.

Mbanga also suggested a consolidation of existing focus groups, the addition of a separate group dedicated to governance and accountability, clarity around time frames and monitoring and review mechanisms.

Msunduzi Innovation and Development Institute (Midi) trustee and South African Chamber of Commerce and Industry president Babu Baijoo said he was left feeling inspired. “We’ve created a platform for dialogue and debate,” he said.

“We also did not impose a particular will on delegates,” he said, referring to the decision taken by some delegates not to sign a pre-prepared statement of intent at the end of the summit, owing to concerns around what they saw as the failure of yesterday’s summary of strategic outcomes to capture the detailed fabric of discussions at focus group level. The statement contained a pledge to support the “initiatives, processes and projects deriving from the summit”.

Explaining his reservations, A Rocha director Alan Goddard, a participant in the environmental focus group, argued that economic opportunities to be derived from the city’s natural environment had been foregrounded at the expense of conservation priorities.

Terry Petersen, chairman of the Institute of Estate Agents (Pietermaritzburg and Interior), said some critical issues raised in Tuesday’s focus group on economics, infrastructure and business development were not sufficiently represented in yesterday’s overview, which focused largely on the development of the N3 corridor, a regional airport and clarifying the status of the city as a metropolitan municipality.

For delegates representing NGOs and community-based organisations, there were concerns that the poor and marginalised are being overlooked.

Baijoo said the value of the summit was the commitment by all participants to keep talking.

Midi trustee Professor Rob Fincham described the summit as an historic milestone. “There was some unhappiness about process, but everyone realised they wanted to be part of the process,” he said.

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