Time to resuscitate Bay vision
About 19 years ago Uitenhage, Despatch and Port Elizabeth were merged to form the Nelson Mandela Bay metropolitan.
This was the first step towards reaffirming the city’s commitment in driving a coordinated developmental programme where there would be equitable sharing of resources between the three centres.
The plan was essentially to remove the silo governmental approach; where each town had its own administration and dedicated financial resources to drive its developmental agenda.
Historically, Port Elizabeth had long been viewed as the “big brother” of the two towns as it was seen to be receiving more attention in terms of development.
But what also necessitated this restructuring was the fact that the city had its first democratically elected mayor in the person of Nceba Faku.
It seemed like a new dawn for Nelson Mandela Bay – everyone thought.
There seemed to be a sense of natural progression driven by outstanding foresight on the part of the new polity.
In 2003, Faku had his moment of glory.
He shared his vision for the city and presented a blueprint document with high profile catalytic projects aimed at reconfiguring the city’s economic and social landscape.
Instantly, the Vision 2020 concept received widespread appeal and endorsement across the metro.
It came to define the potential growth for our region, especially if all these proposed projects were fully harnessed.
This was bold and unmatched – the administration was on the money.
The private sector was lapping up the ideas and pretty much rubber-stamped everything to register its full commitment.
Pity though, where politics reside, brilliant ideas habitually fall through the crevices due to bickering, short-sightedness and greed.
Quite honestly, this is what has derailed many of the projects that could have driven the city’s long-term growth prospects had these economically viable catalytic projects been implemented.
Out of 22 proposed projects, eight have been completed.
Clearly someone took his eyes off the ball and in the process, golden opportunities were missed.
Perhaps we should take comfort in the fact that gradually, we are witnessing renewed interest from the Eastern Cape’s provincial political leadership and other sectors as there is a show of commitment for the realisation of these projects.
The economic spin-offs from these projects are immeasurable.
At least these leaders understand this – their renewed interest is justified.
For instance, the proposed multi-billion rand oil refinery dubbed Project Mthombo at the Coega IDZ is expected to create between 12,000 and 21,000 direct and indirect jobs during construction, and between 2,000 and 5,000 jobs when operational.
As part of ensuring shared growth and development, the government has placed a strong focus on infrastructure development and industrial manufacturing capacity.
There will be opportunities for broad-based black economic empowerment companies in the delivering of goods and services to the new refinery and the development of secondary industries around it.
Project Mthombo supports the National Development Plan and its vision is to create a competitive, energy-efficient economy that can grow and leverage the benefits of regional cooperation and trade.
Another high profile project is the development of the waterfront which for decades has remained a pipe-dream.
Part of the problem has been the consistent delay by Transnet in relocating the manganese storage facilities to Coega to make way for the planned waterfront.
The storage facilities in their totality are a hindrance to not only unlocking the development of the waterfront’s tourism potential, but also the oceans economy potential of the region.
The Nelson Mandela Bay Business Chamber has been firm in its support of the plan to unlock this piece of land as it would translate to long-term economic benefits.
And the recent announcement by Transnet through its Port of Port Elizabeth manager, Rajesh Dana, that it has moved to engage with port industry players on the status quo of this highly awaited project augurs well for the region.
This is a welcomed move as the project would be a gamechanger.
Finally, we have a set timeline for the initial work which would be undertaken in phases, starting small and then expanding in line with market demand.
It will boost the province’s economy and transform the face of the port and the city.
The new premier, Oscar Mabuyane, has also recommitted his government to support Nelson Mandela Bay to become an international tourism destination, including fasttracking catalytic projects such as Project Mthombo.
Even though we have lost a lot of ground, there is still time to rally around the review and resuscitation of the Vision 2020 concept document to begin packaging this city for its next growth phase.Rhetoric has given rise to unwarranted delays and, henceforth, we need to be firm in our commitment in turning the fortunes of this city around.