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Recent exposure to the provincial Growth and Development Strategy, the city’s Back of Port Plan, the exciting blueprint for the dig-out port and the city’s draft economic development strategy have made me think about the challenges that lie ahead in bringing these projects to fulfilment.
We are bumbling along, divided in our quest for a common goal. Even if this were found, we are unclear about how we could achieve it. If insanity is doing the same thing over and over in the expectation of achieving a different result, we are indeed insane.
We have among the best plans and policies in the world, and we have the expertise to bring these to fruition, I believe. But do we have the will to work together?
In the case of the plans mentioned above, I have a sense that it is expected that the government must implement them to make our lives better. This will not happen; it cannot happen. If these things are to be achieved, the private sector must take a dominant role and provide the impetus and momentum to ensure that the country’s economic prospects keep pace with the huge developments required.
It is not sufficient that the infrastructure should be developed in the expectation that greater prosperity will follow. Indeed, I think we are in some danger of viewing these various plans as panaceas in themselves. This is far from reality. Not only do they have to be implemented, and in line with the timelines conceived, but they have to promote smarter practice so that we do not waste the potential.
The dig-out port will have optimal value when standards of delivery at the harbour are raised so that using Durban is a matter of choice and not just expediency. The vision is for a “super port”, and this refers surely to the manner in which the infrastructure is used.
As far as the Back of Port Plan is concerned, consultation has begun and, with it, battle lines are being drawn. These are traditional, in the sense that residents and industry are unhappy neighbours. Development demands change, but people, for the most part, regard change as disruptive and it is difficult to see greener grass on the other side when there is no tangible evidence, just words and promises.
We want better lives for far more of our people. This is not possible without economic growth and development and this, in turn, cannot reach the required levels without change, without deliberately creating an environment more conducive to its achievement. This change must include spatial reorganisation, for even competence and capacity cannot overcome the restraints of physical space.
I wish to make two points. First, conventional consultation techniques may not achieve the sort of harmonies between residents and others required for the Back of Port Plan to be embraced as a stunning blueprint for the facilitation of growth for our city and province.
We have a unique opportunity to find a way to achieve harmony by using innovative methods of bringing disparate interests together. I’m not sure what these are, but I’m sure we have the ability to develop them. My second point is that novel techniques of consultation and the achievement of consensus will be possible only if the benefits of economic growth are visible and will make a difference to people’s lives.
The promise of development is extremely hollow if more unemployed people don’t get jobs. This is not a matter of quarterly statistics, but the experience of communities where unemployment is reality.
Surely we are convinced by now that we cannot rely on the “trickle-down” effect. If it happens at all, it’s far too slow to be meaningful. We must make a real effort to dispel the belief that economic growth is for the benefit of the government and the prosperous.