By Markus Mostert
9th December 2016
Unknown to most Grahamstonians, our little City was graced by presence the Honourable Premier of the Eastern Cape, Phumulo Masualle, on Friday 2 December. The purpose of the Premier’s visit was to facilitate discussion between the Grahamstown Business Forum and the Makana Municipality on how best to proceed to making Grahamstown sustainable, affordable, equitable and with quality services in a just, friendly, secure and healthy environment.
The meeting last Friday was the culmination of a process of engagement that started at the end of September this year. Against the background of the Fees Must Fall Protests the GBF wrote to the Premier to express concern over the negative impact of a shutdown of a possible Rhodes University on local business and unemployment, and expressed the view the most vulnerable of communities will be affected worst. The Premier responded by inviting the GBF to Bisho for a conversation in the beginning of November. Following this meeting between Trevor Davies, Richard Gaybba and the Premier and his officials, the Premier invited the GBF and the Mayor of Makana to draw up “state of affairs” reports to be used as discussion documents for a meeting during his visit to Grahamstown.
In our memorandum to the Premier the GBF committed itself to working with Makana towards realising the Municipality’s vision. Highlighting the deficit in the Municipality’s operating budget and human resource issues as the two areas that could most benefit from provincial intervention, the memorandum suggested that those proposals in Pam Yako’s report that might have the most impact be implemented as soon as possible. The memorandum also proposed that the Premier uses his influence to persuade government departments to settle their municipal accounts and that more people be registered as “indigent” so as to relieve the poorest of the poor of their crippling debts and secure an additional income stream for the Municipality. With regard to infrastructure, the Premier was reminded that some streets and roads in and around Grahamstown falls within the ambit of the Province who is responsible for maintenance thereof and also requested the payment of streets in Grahamstown East. Finally, the GBF appealed the Premier to support the Creative City Project, a citizens’ initiative for developing Grahamstown as South Africa’s Creative Capital by facilitating the establishment of a Creative City Committee.
The meeting on 2 December however did not focus on the specific practical strategies put forward by the GBF. While the Premier welcomed the involvement of the private sector in government’s drive to make our province better, he emphasized the need to put our minds together in order to develop a flourishing democratic future and support the vibrancy of Grahamstown. In the view of the GBF, the FMF campaign has highlighted the lack of support and care experienced by students and citizens alike, often as a result of basic services that are wanting. On behalf of Makana Municipality, the Mayor, Nomhle Gaga, presented the delegates with an overview of the most pressing issues and also conveyed information about a strategy meeting scheduled for January next year, during which shortcomings will be prioritised.
Whereas the real value of this engagement between the delegations of the Premier, Makana and the GBF will only be revealed in due course, the GBF remains positive that working together and in a spirit of cooperation, we will be able to achieve much more than we would if we were set up in adversarial positions, especially if both organisations are committed to finding solutions for the challenges in Grahamstown. With commitments from the Premier that Grahamstown is important to Government and that the National Arts Festival needs to be protected, the sun is shining brightly in upon our City.