Activist moots new civic umbrella body

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The symbolism of having a meeting in a City Hall where a large proportion of the lights don’t work was not lost on Ron Weissenberg as he presented his proposal to the annual general meeting of the Grahamstown Residents’ Association (GRA) on Tuesday evening. To stress the point, he reminded the 50-odd residents present at the meeting that the two buildings alongside City Hall had been condemned because they were unsafe.

Weissenberg, Chairperson of the Concerned Citizens Committee and an activist for transforming the Makana malaise into a vibrant, functioning community, did not tread softly when he came to describing the current administration. He said that Makana was “a failed municipality, let’s not deny it”; it was bankrupt and run largely by incompetent people. He said there was little or no chance of improvement within the next five years.

His proposal was the formation of an umbrella body to coordinate the efforts of civil society in their struggle to really make “Makana a great place to be”. While he was talking about civil society in general he was referring specifically to the GRA, the Grahamstown Business Forum (GBF) and Makana Revive – three organisations that have been making a concerted effort to engage with the municipality about improving Makana’s infrastructure.

Weissenberg said local civil society organisations were working in silos that sometimes created duplication while striving for similar goals.  He stressed that the separate organisations would be able to retain their independence while at the same time sharing a common resource base.  The main function of the umbrella body, which he provisionally called SiliRhini – Unity – Harmonie – would be to coordinate efforts.

The new organisation would be managed by a Governance Committee, or a GovCo, that would facilitate coordination and help its members wherever possible. He suggested that the Presidency of the GovCo should rotate every six months between representatives of its member bodies. He stressed that it would be non-religious and apolitical.

Richard Gaybba, Chairman of the Grahamstown Business Forum, said his organisation was gradually shifting focus from municipal issues to promoting  business interests. He said it was important to encourage new investments in Makana and particularly inward investments, that is investments sourced from outside the area.

The GBF aimed to help local businesses to prepare for the fourth industrial revolution and even get ready for the fifth.

The meeting elected a new GRA committee which will manage the affairs of the organisation for the coming year. Members of the new committee are: Philip Machanick, Fleur Way-Jones, Sally Price-Smith, Tim Bull, Richard Alexander, Xolani Simakuhle, Ed Gaybba, Leroy Maisiri and Mazwi Makana.

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