This city needs a real plan

Inclusive planning that looks beyond the IDP, and skilled staff are required to lift Grahamstown out of the mess it’s in, writes Phenyo Nonqane-Lekoma

The current poor service delivery and neglect of the infrastructure of Grahamstown is an insult to the city’s brave political activists who tirelessly campaigned for a better life for all residents.

The people of the city seem to have given up as they live in unacceptable conditions. During the apartheid regime reign which ended in 1994, the people of the city were at the forefront of challenging injustices experienced head on. They campaigned for better services and social justice.

They demanded houses, roads, education, water, transport and jobs. It was through the leadership of committed individuals and organisations that the activism of the people of the city was felt in corridors of the then racist authorities.

Churches, progressive businesses, political organisations and non-governmental organisations were central to campaigning for improved conditions for the people of the city. Consumer boycotts, mass protests, school boycotts and other political activities were carried out with unity of purpose and fearlessness.

The question is what happened to the preparedness to challenge poor service delivery and campaign for a better life?

Yes, the African National Congress (ANC) has the political power to lead the development of the city. To challenge lack of proper service delivery from the local municipality led by the ANC does not mean there is hatred for the organisation. In fact, there is a burning desire for the organisation to excel in bringing about lasting positive change to the lives of the poor and marginalised. It actually means being principled and prepared to call for correction where wrong is done.

There is a need to act and address the unacceptable state of Grahamstown. It is clear that the city is rapidly moving towards a state of underdevelopment rather than positive development.

New ideas have to be found on how to address the unbearable potholes found all over the city.

A lasting solution to the water crisis has to be found.

Addressing the high rate of unemployment is not an option but a necessity. While acknowledging that the local municipality cannot employ all the jobless people, it has the responsibility to create conducive environment for real local economic development to happen.

There is a need for an urgent multi-stakeholder engagement about the state of development in Grahamstown. The plethora of developmental challenges faced by the people of the city cannot be addressed by the local municipality alone. There is a need to converge and do a proper diagnosis of the city’s development problems and causes. All political parties, whether loved or not, should be allowed to take part in the process aimed at diagnosing the development problems of the city.

There is a need for a strategic approach acceptable to all residents on how to improve the dire situation faced by the people of Grahamstown. A long-term city development strategy informed by the national Integrated Urban Development Framework (IUDF) has to be formulated through a participatory planning process.

A bankable city development strategy is a requirement in ensuring participation by all the relevant local, provincial and national stakeholders in addressing development challenges faced by the city.

Local civil society has to be actively involved in diagnosing the developmental challenges, in formulating a long-term city development strategy and in ensuring that the city development strategy is implemented fully.

The IUDF identifies a number of challenges that have led to the current unacceptable situation experienced by the people of the city. The lack of a common agenda for effective city development and collective action seem to be glaring under the current leadership of the local municipality.

It seems there are also weak institutional systems that impact negatively on how the city is managed, coupled with very poor oversight. The fact that the city can be managed by an acting municipal manager, acting directors and at times by administrators tells that there is a need to revamp both the political and administrative leadership.

Another issue that needs to be addressed is the shortage of competent staff and appropriate skills. The city seems to be in dire need of appropriate skills so that effective management of the development of the city is realised. It would be interesting to establish whether the city has the capacity to apply for many grants available at all levels of government and international funders that could be used to address the development challenges it faces.

The poor citizen communication and engagement must be the most visible shortcoming experienced by the people of the city. The lack of effective engagement of local churches, the university, private schools, businesses, the high court, non-governmental organisations, young people, people living with disabilities, the unemployed and political organisations is the most damaging deficiency of those given the power to lead.

There is a need for an engagement of all stakeholders about the problems besetting the city so that they can appreciate the attempts made to address the dire situation.

The aim is not to express an opinion about how bad the situation is in the city and end there. What is needed is a generation of positive ideas on how the situation can be turned around. The participatory integrated city development planning process proposed should be preceded by an agreement on how to manage the process, who should participate and how to go about doing a diagnosis of the developmental challenges faced.

The development of the city strategy should result in a clearly written living document to be used for the mobilisation of resources for implementation. A city development strategy has to be broader than the integrated development plan. In fact, an integrated development plan has to be directly informed by the city development strategy. A city development strategy has to be a long term plan, an expression of  a vision, bankable and implementable.

The institutional capacity of the local municipality would also have to be reviewed and enhanced for real implementation to be realised. The focus should not be on addressing potholes only but to outline how the city should manage its natural resources, the local economy, social and political setup.

There has to be a better management of the land, air and water of the city. There has to be a better management of the local economy. There has to be an enhancement of governance and leadership of the city.

There are many men and women who sacrificed their lives for the betterment of the city and their country in general. They suffered detention without trial, they were tortured and some died in the hands of the brutal security forces of the racist government of Botha-Malan-Vlok.

Who has forgotten the contribution made by the local political heroes who are not always remembered such as Billy Ndwebisa, Mlindi Magxwalisa, Vuyo Kulati, BoyBoy Mginywa, Potose Lesoro, Nobou Nesi, Mpumelelo Baru, and many others. There is still room to benefit from the wisdom of many other tested leaders of the community such as Mama uPlaatjie, Dan Sandi, Vuyo Bikitsha, Phila Nkayi, Nomfundiso Kulati, Pam Yako, Mzwandile Poswa, Luntu Neer, Tony Yaka, Gugile Nkwinti and many other local professionals using their skills for the benefit of cities other than their own.

Let the current leadership of the city act now and stop insulting those who fought hard to bring about meaningful and positive change to its people. There are many experts who originate from the city who should be given space to make a contribution towards its development. The time for action is now. Fortunately, the ANC is currently undergoing renewal at a national level. However, the positive wind of renewal of the organisation should also reach Grahamstown.

  • Phenyo Nonqane-Lekoma is an independent urban development, socio-economic development and communication for development consultant. He is the Managing Director of PIMC Development Communication & Research.


Brief background about the author:

I, Phenyo Nonqane-Lekoma, grew up in Grahamstown in the Eastern Cape Province. I was born in the North-West Province. I live in Gauteng. I have work experience of more than 22 years. Currently, I work as an independent consultant focusing on urban development; socio-economic development; communication for development; development and social facilitation. I am the founder and Managing Director of PIMC Development Communication & Research.

My education background:
Bachelor of Arts (Journalism), Rhodes University
Master of Philosophy in South African Politics and Political Economy, University of Port Elizabeth
Master of Arts in Development Studies, Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University
Doctor of Philosophy Candidate, Wits University

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