Why can’t Durban and PMB talk?

2011-06-02 00:00

I WAS privileged to attend the finish of the Comrades Marathon as a guest. It was a privilege, indeed, and I was mightily impressed by the set-up of the finish at the Oval and the professional way in which everything had been arranged. There is no doubt that the organisers of this Ultimate Human Race have got it spot on. This is an event that can match any in the world, I'm sure.

I'm not sure that motorists entering Maritzburg during the afternoon would agree, considering the extent of the congestion along Alan Paton Avenue, but this, I suppose, is the price one pays when over 12 000 runners, supported by wives and followers in their motor cars, try to find parking to collect their weary runners at the finish.

I was not aware of the traditional handover by the winner to the mayor of Pietermaritzburg of the message from his Durban counterpart. If it did occur, it was not done with any prominence and I consider this to be a pity. It is a symbolic gesture of co-operation between the cities which, if truth be told, may not have meant very much in anything but a figurative sense. But it is better than nothing, and I have a sense that the relationship between the major port and the capital is not sustained by any meaningful current interaction. It is true that many Durban people seem not to realise that the journey to Pietermaritzburg is exactly the same distance as the journey from Pietermaritzburg to Durban (I have borrowed this observation), but considering the importance of the N3 between the two cities and its potential for economic corridor development, the lack of constructive engagement as to how this development should be managed is very short-sighted.

It is the system rather than the people that should be blamed for this, perhaps. For a start, the municipalities of eThekwini and Msunduzi are not contiguous. They are separated by Mkhambathini as a result of a ruling of the Demarcation Board, which seems to have discounted economic factors in arriving at its decisions. The folly of the original decision was compounded by the shambles over the metropolitan status of Msunduzi. This, too, resulted from political rather than economic considerations.

Indeed, as long as local economic development and its complementary spatial development planning remain the responsibility of local municipalities that appear to have neither the will nor the capacity to talk to one another, economic development will be impeded by red tape or

inertia, or both.

In the case of the N3 corridor, and despite a mandate to the district municipality given in mid-2009 to form a committee, planning had not been integrated by the close of last year. If it has been achieved since then, I'd be surprised. It would seem to be a simple thing to get

people around a table to share their planning and come to agreement on alignment. This is not the case, however. Municipalities, apparently, can only work together in terms of protocols which inhibit rather than encourage.

Currently, there are discussions about the barriers to progress inherent in four tiers of government (officially, there are only three, but anyone who has had involvement in municipal government knows that districts and local municipalities are levels and not spheres). Some argue for the disappearance of provinces and others for the disappearance of local municipalities, most of which are clearly not viable. There is a suggestion that provinces should have more responsibility in respect of economic development and even more autonomy in this regard. Inevitably, this talk is dominated by politics, while the real problem relates to how economic development planning can be made effective.

Some countries, I believe, separate political entities from economic ones. In this model a municipality might be the site of service delivery and political representation, but economic planning is the responsibility of a regional authority which recognises that economics and business are no respecters of political boundaries.

• Andrew Layman is the CEO at Durban Chamber of Commerce and Industry.

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