KwaZulu-Natal MEC for Economic Development, Tourism and Environmental Affairs Sihle Zikalala, centre, with (from left) Pietermaritzburg Chamber of Business (PCB) president Bongi Mshengu, Umgungundlovu District mayor Thobekile Maphumulo, Msunduzi Municipality mayor Themba Njilo and PCB chief executive Melanie Veness at a dinner with business owners at the Pietermaritzburg City Hall last night. Sibonelo Ngcobo African News Agency (ANA)
DURBAN - Economic development and Tourism MEC Sihle Zikalala said Pietermaritzburg needs a fresh start to be restored to its former glory.

He was addressing business owners at a dinner at the Pietermaritzburg City Hall last night.

“I can assure you that you can count on unqualified support from the provincial government to restore Pietermaritzburg to the days of its former glory and great promise. Pietermaritzburg is a treasure and pride of the people of KwaZulu-Natal and, indeed, our country,” he said.

Zikalala’s meeting with business owners comes after the Msunduzi Municipality was placed under administration last week. The decision came after the city was faced with financial troubles and a host of service-delivery challenges related to waste management, roads and street maintenance as well as electricity services.

Zikalala said yesterday that as early as January last year, when President Cyril Ramaphosa visited, he warned about the state of the city. He said Ramaphosa had raised concerns about the impact the state of the city was having on economic development. He said similar concerns were raised by Minister of Trade and Industry Rob Davies when he visited this month.

A business owner, who works in the CBD, said the poor management of the city had hammered business confidence and the neglect of the CBD was driving retailers and customers away.

He said a grocery shop, two fast-food franchises and a bakery operating just metres from him had moved out of the CBD or closed down. “The street kids were harassing shoppers. When the shoppers move, so do the shops. The CBD has been neglected, there is no sense of security and you hardly ever see municipal officers doing patrols.”

He said saving the city and business confidence would require bold action that included dealing decisively with the issue of street kids, cleaning the streets and improving security in the CBD.

Patrick Thompson, marketing manager for Profile Property Solutions, a real estate company that focuses on industrial, commercial and retail property sales and rentals, said the property industry in Pietermaritzburg was “a mixed bag”. He said office rentals were still steady and there were more industrial businesses that were coming in to the peripheral areas of the city, like the Mkondeni industrial park.

“In terms of retailers, we are seeing more and more of them moving out of the city or they are downscaling. The main reason they give is that business is bad,” he said.

Pietermaritizburg Chamber of Business president Bongi Mshengu said the government needed to deal with issues of red tape, especially at the municipal level, that hampered businesses.