Nelson Mandela Bay is the best little city in the world

Nelson Mandela Bay
Nelson Mandela Bay
Image: Brian Witbooi

It’s a fact that we’ve forgotten, that has become lost in the circus our administration has become.

Let’s be clear, neither the city’s professional administration, nor its political leadership are up to the task.

You cannot run any organisation on temporary positions and numerous vacancies across the board. Nor can you lead a city if critical decisions such as the budget take five sittings to gain approval.

Local municipal elections are at least two years away.

There’s an outside chance of placing the city under administration, but even if that were to transpire, is there a professional manager on the planet that can get things working?

And, if by some small miracle such a person can be found and retained long enough, what follows? Who and what will they hand over to?

There are, without doubt, pockets of excellence in the city.

The MBDA, for instance, has done sterling work but it alone cannot carry the city on its shoulders. There are other examples too, Imizi Housing, the Zwartkops Conservancy, some of the Bay’s schools and religious institutions, NMU’s many excellent faculties and incubators, and so on.

There are many politicians and administrators within the system who are good people working long hours, but the boulder they’re pushing up the hill is just too big.

We could blame our woes on Transnet officials who seem to think the Bay’s two harbours are islands, far removed from the city they’re grounded in. There appears to be no momentum around creating a revitalised waterfront.

The go-slow at Ngqura harbour has done untold damage to the Sunday’s River citrus industry, the city’s second biggest industry after the automotive sector – surely then it must be the fault of intransigent, unreasonable unions?

We could argue that an economic vision that seeks to centre its brand offering solely on the icon of Nelson Mandela is an empty promise. Madiba was a great man, but he had no links to our city, everything we build around his name is in essence, a façade, fake.

Yet the Bay was the heart of the struggle – call it Biko Bay and immediately we tap into a rich heritage of people who stood up for what they believed in, even when it cost them their lives.

We could blame our inertia on litterbugs – people who throw their plastic from car windows that is then picked up by the wind and blown out to sea. But that would miss the reality that our city’s waste management system has collapsed. It misses that we use our toilet bowls as rubbish bins. That earbud you put the toilet? It will be on the beach soon, if some poor seagull hasn’t mistaken it for food.

In essence we have lost sight of what we have in our bay, because in the hum-drum of daily life, in the struggle to make it to month end, to get our kids to school, we have placed the care of our city in the hands of others.

The other political party. The other municipal official. The other failing state entity. The other teacher. The other.

We as citizens don’t own this place. We’ve lost faith in our politicians and administrators. We hunker down, keep a low profile, hoping that perhaps when President Cyril Ramaphosa has dealt with the dragons he’s currently battling, he will ride in to save us.

Like what we saw on Game of Thrones? Or perhaps, like Cape Town, we want the army to bring peace to our neighbourhoods, stop the murder?

It’s an easy task to list the things that are wrong with this place. Potholes, litter, water leaks, overburdened sewerage works, crime, corruption, segregation, racism, xenophobia, woman and child abuse, drugs, alcohol, murder.

The more difficult task is to recognise what we have. The ocean space of Algoa Bay is a unique and rich ecosystem – home to whales, dolphins, penguins and colourful reefs.

We have some of the best beaches and safest swimming waters in the world. What other city boasts two harbours and at least five major watercourses running through it?

If we restored the Swartkops Estuary, the Papenkuils and Baakens rivers, we restore the green lungs of our city. And we create jobs and businesses off the back of that.

Central Park is Manhattan’s iconic feature, Table Mountain is Cape Town’s, Algoa Bay and our green lungs are ours, we just can’t see it.

How do we change it?

The leverage lies in creating pockets of excellence where you’re at. Doing little things that together make a big thing. Plant an indigenous tree in your garden. Pick up the litter in your street, even it’s not yours or someone else is paid to do it. Help out at your local school, stand for a place on the governing board, help your child’s teacher with classroom aids.

Volunteer at your sports club, join a beach clean-up or pitch in at Sanccob to clean our African Penguins. Find out who your local councillor is and insist they give you regular feedback. Sign up as an interested and affected party for a local development.

Walk down the Baakens valley, stand at the edge of Swartkops, stop off at the lifeguard on one of our beaches and just remind them that they’re awesome.

There are an estimated 1,2 million people living within the bounds of our metropole.

If each of those persons created a pocket of excellence, the resulting patchwork would bring about a change that the armchair critics, the crooks, the high-flying business folk and persons sitting in the Union Buildings would pay attention to. Bees are attracted to both pollen and sugar-water – it’s our city, we decide what we are. We are the best little city in the world.

● Gary Koekemoer, PhD candidate and WESSA Algoa Bay branch chair.

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