Grahamstown Business Forum
2017/8 Annual Report
Richard Gaybba, Chair
I have found, being at the helm of the GBF to be a challenge. The past year was particularly a challenge, due to an unprecedented decline in infrastructure, severe drought and tough micro economic factors including massive financial changes to the biggest institution in our city. Regionally, Provincially, and Nationally, the political landscape was uncertain and took many twists and turns.
Despite our best efforts, the past year became focussed on Makana Municipality. This proved to be challenging and extremely time consuming. It was however, necessary and I do feel that we made progress and managed to achieve success.
We found ourselves in a position where we spent most of the year engaging with various levels of local and provincial government, trying to get to some sort of resolution in appointing a competent and permanent municipal manager and/or a turnaround specialist. Whilst this is vitally important in improving business environment, it is not the primary function of the forum.
It may seem that the GBF has been quiet over the past year, but we have been very active. Communication has been one of the areas which we have struggled to keep up with. Whilst I acknowledge this weakness, it’s been impossible for our current committee to take on this role. Secondly, much of the work we have done is highly sensitive in nature and it cannot always be published without hindering processes which are underway.
Relationship with the Office of the Premier
The relationship with the Office of the Premier was established during the “Fees must fall” protest. This was as a direct result of a meeting held by myself and Dr Davies. The relationship was developed and it’s still in place. It must be noted that this relationship played a critical part in the appointment of the current Municipal Manager. I would also like to add that the Office of the Premier (OTP) and his staff are very engaging and would like to continue the relationship moving forward. This was communicated via email in the past couple of days.
Appointment of Acting Municipal Manager
There seems to have been an overwhelmingly positive response to the appointment of Mr Ted Pillay as the acting municipal manager. Whilst his appointment was possibly due to a group effort between various role players, I would like to add that the GBF played an enormous role in his appointment. Due to the sensitive nature of his appointment we were unable to communicate what we were doing whilst trying to facilitate his appointment and I can also add that the GBF identified Mr Pillay as a possible candidate and approached him directly. We then alerted the OTP that Mr Pillay was a potential candidate for the position of turnaround specialist/municipal manager.
Other Civil Society Organisations
Many members of the public have commented on the number of new organisations that have started in the past year. This has also increased by individuals and businesses who have undertaken significant work in both improving the town and marketing Grahamstown as a destination. We, as an organisation have repeatedly asked our members and the public to do their bit for the town. Whilst we sometimes feel frustrated that people haven’t taken the opportunity to join either the GBF or GRA, I cannot begrudge or complain about any improvement to the town.
I have spent much of the year engaging with Grahamstown Residents Association (GRA), Makana Revive! (MR!), Makana Unity League (MUL) and the Concerned Citizens Committee to Save Makana (CCCSM). The process of engaging with so many organisations was a difficult one, however we managed to achieve some success and have found ways in which to move forward. I must thank Tim Bull, Ron Weissenberg, Sally Price-Smith, Owen Skae and their committees for working with me and allowing me a platform to add my opinion on the issues at hand.
In general, it has been very difficult for us to form a business relationship with Rhodes University and we have tried to engage with them on numerous occasions to find workable solutions. To date, for a variety of reasons this has not borne much fruit. However, it must be added that on a departmental and individual level Rhodes staff have been fantastic and often assisted the GBF and our members.
I am pleased to announce that the start of 2018 has brought about a very positive development through Ms Mrwetyana, the Director: Student Affairs. Ms Mrwetyana has started formulating a plan in which businesses and students can interact efficiently and develop further positive relationships with one another. It may well also provide our members some ideal marketing opportunities to a very important market. As things develop we will communicate this with our members.
2018 and beyond
I believe the GBF must grow past being an organisation that primarily deals with Municipal issues. The business environment has become more challenging and complex and as a local business community, we need to find ways in which to support our businesses and hopefully grow the local economy. We also need to consider sourcing new investment into our city.
The discussion has been opened regarding joining up with national business bodies which would add support and hopefully add value to the organisation.
The other discussions that have been taking place between the GRA, GBF, MR! and others is trying to find ways in which to “merge” resources to help improve the effectiveness of all the organisations. The discussions are at a very early stage and I am confident that we will come to a resolution in the next couple of months.
We also have some exciting new projects which involve Local Economic Development, Car Guards and the Aesthetics Committee which we are working on closely with the Local Economic Directorate and the Public Safety and Community Services Directorate.
The organisation simply cannot continue unless current or new members are willing to join the committee. Most of the committee members have reached a point where they are unable to continue for another term and I, as the chair, am only able to serve for another 12 months. Therefore, should no new committee members join, the standing GBF committee will need to windup the affairs of the GBF. It’s something that none of the past or present committee are willing to do as collectively we have spent thousands of hours building this organisation and fighting for business.
We have held very successful events in 2017/18 which included Business Breakfasts and a Networking Evening. I must thank all those who made the effort to attend and to those who helped in the organising and planning of the events. We will certainly look at doing more events in the 2018/19 year as they provide us a great platform to interact with our members.
Lastly, I would just like to thank all our members who have supported us throughout the year. I must also add a special vote of thanks to our committee members. The work involved in running an organisation like ours takes many hours of work and sleepless nights. The committee all shares one major concern and that’s the lack of new committee members and should this not happen by the next AGM, 2018/2019, we may be forced to dissolve the GBF. This would be a huge loss for business and would obliterate the work done by our two previous committees and chairman.