We must protect PMB's capital status

2009-03-09 00:00

How many of us remember that just five years ago our city was locked in a monumental battle with Ulundi over the seat of the provincial capital? The stakes were incredibly high, but acting in common purpose, we managed to confirm our capital status.

The benefits since then speak for themselves. The city’s economy has expanded rapidly, particularly with the relocation of provincial government departments, and the associated spend linked to government’s substantial procurement budgets.

According to economist Clive Coetzee, economic activity in our city trebled between 2004 and 2007. It only began to slow down in the last quarter of 2008 and this in itself is attributable to reduced consumer spending, prompted by higher interest rates, as well a reduction in the export demand based on the global economic slowdown.

On the upside, the service sector is growing and the demand for office space is still high. The R800 million new legislature will bring new jobs and new opportunities for the city. The announcement of a new hotel development by the Liberty Group reinforces this trend, and undoubtedly, will be followed by other similar synergetic developments.

However, it remains a very real threat that the IFP, together with its coalition partners, may attempt to restore the capital status back to Ulundi.

During a recent debate on Radio Lotus, a representative of the IFP, Dr Usha Roopnarian, stated that if it wins the elections, the IFP will hold a referendum on the capital question. It stands to reason therefore, that should the IFP win the election, in all probability, the outcome of the referendum will favour its pro-Ulundi stance.

During the very same radio debate, the DA’s representative Sandy Kalyan, confirmed that the DA is willing to form alliances with parties other than the ANC, as it had attempted to do in the run-up to the 2004 elections.

This is a very sobering issue within the context of the upcoming general elections, and both residents and stakeholders of the city need to apply their minds to the consequences thereof.

Simply stated, we need to protect in the strongest possible manner, our capital status. Should we fail to do this, the future is predictably bleak. Thousands of jobs are on the line, the property market will go into free fall, businesses will shut down and the economy will tumble.

For what it’s worth, under the current provincial government, our city, together with the rest of the province, experienced substantial economic growth over the last five years.

Although there are many challenges, the present government under the premiership of S’bu Ndebele made significant strides that cannot be easily brushed aside by electioneering rhetoric.

What is comforting, however, is that many of the presently serving provincial cabinet members are significantly high on the ANC’s candidate list. This is important as it balances the need for continuity with the need for new ideas and innovation.

It is equally heartening to note that the finance and economic development MEC, Dr Zweli Mkhize, is the front-runner for deployment to the premiership. His vast experience and documented track record bodes well for the future.

It is important for city residents to give serious thought to these issues.

It is time to re-establish the Capital Coalition, and so, take on this challenge!

•Babu Baijoo is deputy president of the South African Chamber of Commerce and Industry and a director of the Pietermaritzburg Chamber of Business. He writes in his personal capacity.

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