Durban – A diplomatic breakfast meeting intended to sell the eThekwini Metro as a choice foreign investment destination fell flat on Wednesday because of the massive taxi strike in the city.
According to the city, the meeting was supposed to showcase and communicate key investment projects and opportunities in the metro to consul generals and ambassadors.
But the South African National Taxi Council (Santaco) staged a protest on the same day, blocking major routes into the city since 5am before eventually congregating at Toyota in Prospecton to demand lower vehicle prices and improved regulation of the taxi industry from government.
While 30 diplomats were expected at the breakfast meeting, only six were in attendance, with the majority of the remainder of the audience consisting of metro staff.
"The taxi protest has highly inconvenienced diplomatic members, some have been advised by homeland security to stay indoors and in their offices," said programme director Sibusiso Makhathini.
Responding to questions about the strike which the taxi association has said would be prolonged and involve intermittent protests - and its effect on Durban and investor relations, the city's head for international and governance relations, Eric Apelgren, said that eThekwini had a culture of people expressing their views.
"We have this culture of expressing our grievances, but we must enhance our community engagement; we as leadership need to up our game in responding to frustrations that communities are having. It's difficult for us to go tell Toyota to bring Quantum prices down," he said.
Apelgren said it was important to remember that the country was going into "political season" leading up to the African National Congress national conference in December, and that there were "all kinds of people" trying to make political points.
"We, as government, have to ensure the taxi industry can thrive in an organised manner, but we also have to ensure that Toyota is a developing concern in city – we have to balance both those things," he said.
Germany's honorary consul general, Horst Achtzehn, said that while the city had made fantastic strides, "little things" were being forgotten.
"When tourists come to the area, the feedback is that Durban is 'nice' but not 'wow'.
Cleanliness, presentation, crime, ladies of the night – people don't want to see that," said Achtzehn. Durban was old and decaying, he said, and while uShaka Marine World was great, "what else do we have?"
Honorary consul for Mauritius, Nirode Bramdaw, asked what strides had been made in addressing threats coming from the Amadelangokubona Business Forum, a group that had been trying to force the city into handing it tenders through intimidation and threats.
Russell Curtis of Invest Durban told Bramdaw that while the city often saw peaceful objections, there were also protestors who acted outside of the law.
"There is united agreement with business leadership and political leadership, where the mayor and premier are engaging those groups, telling them they will be arrested if they break the law. There is a united front against criminality in the City," he said.
AFRICAN NEWS AGENCY