New hope for ‘Garden Town’

Community tourism forum gets off ground to breathe life in to Uitenhage and Despatch

Uitenhage's Drostdy Museum is a popular site in the town
Uitenhage's Drostdy Museum is a popular site in the town
Image: Fredlin Adriaan

Nothing ever happens in Uitenhage and Despatch, is a statement often made by some people in the city.

But the Nelson Mandela Bay Municipality hopes to change that stereotype, with the formation of a new Uitenhage Despatch Community Development Tourism Forum.

The forum sprang into action this week, kick-starting discussions around revitalising the towns in an effort to attract new business – and visitors.

At present, development is stagnant, monuments and museums remain under-utilised, while buildings in Uitenhage’s main road stay vacant – for months on end.

Previously known as the “Garden Town” in reference to the colourful flowers that lined Caledon Street, the industrial town is a shadow of its former self – compared with a decade ago.

Now in a drive to revive the town, two stakeholder meetings, facilitated by the municipality and the forum, were held in Despatch and Uitenhage on Thursday.

Speaking at the Despatch Town Hall, forum chairman Martin Pram said they were hoping to use the forum to mobilise the tourism sector and broaden consultation among all sectors, including restaurant owners, crafters and pub owners, among others.

Pram said the forum’s brief was to come up with a plan of action for Uitenhage and Despatch to be included in the metro’s master plan for tourism.

“We need to stimulate existing businesses; we need to lobby the private sector to collaborate with the creative industry and when these partnerships grow bigger, more jobs will be created for our people.”

Pram said there was an immense amount of untapped talent in the towns which was not given the attention it deserved.

“We’ve had six Springboks from Despatch, from the likes of Danie Gerber to the current head coach of the Boks, Rassie Erasmus.

“We need to create a plan of action for Uitenhage and revive business confidence in our town,” he said.

During the session, a suggestion was put forward for a roving festival to possibly replace the Uitenhage Street Carnival, with it alternating every year between Uitenhage and Despatch.

Another suggestion was to partner with Metrorail to ferry people from Port Elizabeth to experience the festival, without the hassle of driving all the way to Uitenhage.

Pram said most people did not know that Uitenhage had been home to Enoch Sontonga, composer of Nkosi Sikelel’ iAfrika, and that could prove to be a significant draw-card for the town.

Mandela Bay Development Agency spokesman Luvuyo Bangazi said the agency was planning on revitalising the Uitenhage Science Centre as well as the sheds adjacent to the centre.
“We want to make it more relevant in terms of exhibits, bringing it up to speed, make it relevant in the age of technology, and we’re also doing feasibility studies on the Uitenhage sheds adjacent to the centre.”

The municipality’s mayoral committee member in charge of economic development, tourism and agriculture, Andrew Whitfield, said the plan was to establish the forums to integrate the municipality’s tourism strategy at grassroots level.

“What we found was that tourism takes place in certain areas, more so than others and those are particularly Uitenhage and Despatch areas, but more so our townships or previously disadvantaged areas.

“The idea is to also make communities aware of the benefits of tourism because ultimately we need communities to embrace opportunities that tourism brings but only from a jobs perspective.

“Jobs are primary, but tourism also uplifts communities, and not just from a financial perspective but it creates vibrant trade,” he saidd.

On Thursday at about 2.30pm, the Drostdy Museum, a major Uitenhage attraction, was closed and the Despatch Museum was also shut.

The facilities have multiple broken windows.

And, at about 3.15pm yesterday, Langa Massacre memorial site was also closed.

The Langa Massacre memorial site in Uitenhage was locked up on Thursday
The Langa Massacre memorial site in Uitenhage was locked up on Thursday
Image: Fredlin Adriaan

A former staffer in charge of the Uitenhage and Despatch office, under then mayor Danny Jordaan, Mike Kwenaite, said when he was in office, he had been instructed to convene a people’s council which involved all business stakeholders in both towns. Kwenaite said the council had developed a five-year programme looking at development projects in Uitenhage and Despatch.

“The things that came out of that council were, among others, the development of the Langa Massacre Precinct as well as plans to develop Maduna Road in KwaLanga as a historical road, the entrance of KwaNobuhle be turned into a double carriageway, and that the area around Shoprite and Spar in Despatch be developed into a transport route,” he said.

Following the municipal elections in 2016, these plans had fallen by the wayside.

The vandalised Despatch museum is a shadow of its former self
The vandalised Despatch museum is a shadow of its former self
Image: Fredlin Adriaan

Christo Louw from Despatch said he hoped the forum would create jobs, expand businesses and create a platform for tourism in the area.

“We’ve got a museum here [in Despatch] and a lot of people don’t know about it. It’s been vandalised and it remains closed because people don’t know where the key is,” he said.