Opposition and Alignment: Imagining Pietermaritzburg 2020

Pietermaritzburg_City_HallMy granddad was an avid listener to parliamentary debates in Cape Town in an era long gone. He actually had a number of lunches with Sir De Villiers Graaf, leader of the United Party after General Smuts, often and after listening heckling from the gallery. De Villiers led the opposition party from 1948, the year after it was defeated in the elections by the apartheid wielding Nationalist party. He shored up the opposition against three apartheid prime ministers, Strijdom, Verwoerd and Vorster. I mention this piece of memorabilia because it had a knock-on effect on me. My grandfather had little formal education, worked as a miner in Kimberly and muscled his way into a career as a train driver, his enduring feat being recorded in a family photograph of him with King George IV in front of the locomotive powering the Blue Train that he drove that day (King George was in South Africa in 1947 to try and help the United Party win the 1948 elections against the nationalists). My grandfather was a great story teller, of life as a miner and a boxer and of days in his older age absorbing the debates in parliament. In that context he gave me an enduring optimism about triumphing over the taken for granted ‘truths’ of the day. Opposing that which is unjust must be a way of life, even if the termination of injustices through apartheid, which we spoke about, seemed impossible at that stage in my early life.

Ranjeni Munusamy in her Saturday column of the 11th October 2014 in the Witness, talks of politicians shooting themselves in the foot. What is so important about this column is that she laments political actions that overshadow good things that happened during the week. The scourge of Nkandla and the EFF hearings after their debacle in parliament, continue to embroil us as a nation in controversy, despair and loathing. At the same time, the drive of government to address inefficiencies in local government, articulated by Minister Pravin Gordhan (Cooperative Government and Traditional Affairs) and the President launching the Dube Tradeport industrial development zone in Durban that is likely to generate 150 000 jobs are great, good news stories. So, how do we align ourselves to good news stories to create a world in which we feel part of, not exasperated or alienated?

Given our conflicting and mutual histories in this young nation, and I have let you see a glimpse of mine; let’s plot the positives going into the future. It is a time at which we are desperately needed to embrace the notion of democracy and want to make it our own in an African context. I want to relate two brief events that happened this week that give me reason to be optimistic, particularly about our City. Firstly the Msunduzi Innovation and Development Institute (MIDI) coordinated a Children’s City Summit together with the Msunduzi Municipality and a range of non-government organisations in the City Hall this last Thursday. This very successful Summit paves the way for PietermaZaneritzburg to embark on a path to become a United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) acknowledged Child Friendly city. The MIDI Youth Director, Zane Mchunu, painted an eloquent picture of how MIDI has held on to the vision of creating a Child Friendly City, and his enthusiasm was certainly shared by the Mayor, Councillor Chris Ndlela, who was there and will now need to step into the role as the champion of children’s issues in the City. Secondly, it was salutary that in the same week Pakistani teenager, Malala Yousafzai, became the youngest Nobel Prize laureate for her incredibly brave struggle for championing the rights of young women to education in the north western valley of Swat in Pakistan. Both events celebrate a growing awareness of the importance of children and young women’s voices in an adult conceived and run world. Children are our future and we must allow them strong voices in the way we run our societies. In our case, we must hear their voices and respond to the fears and hopes they have about our city in the coming years. They must be a part of our local governance model.

Yesterday Zane Mchunu and I attended and participated in a quarterly forum hosted by the Mayor and the Municipal Manager, Mxolisi Nkosi. At the meeting local and provincial government departments such as those of transport and health and other stakeholders such as planning consultants, Sanrail, Umgeni Water and MIDI, witnessed a fascinating unfolding of the complex web of activities that take place in the efforts to run a city such as Pietermaritzburg. What was impressive was the leadership of the Mayor and Municipal Manager, obviously intimately acquainted with the work of all these different parties and able to steer discussions with creativity, a sense of humour and insight. As the MM, to which Nkosi is increasingly referred to with respect, ‘nothing for us without us!’ It is a clarion call to state that the municipality will take a lead role in the future development of our city. It is one in which business, academia and citizens will need to feel that they are being continually informed of the capability of government to bring alignment between all responsible for the maintenance and development of the City. The on-going evidence of leadership success will be the emergence of a city we all deserve; a thriving City by 2020, especially for the young, the elderly, the poor and unemployed. It is a challenging but potentially promising future.

What are your thoughts?

Written by Professor Robert Fincham (MIDI Director) – 11 October 2014