EThekwini municipality blamed for squandering once in a lifetime partnership with US city of Los Angeles

Published Jan 10, 2023


Durban - A former South African consul-general in the US city of Los Angeles has accused the leadership of eThekwini municipality of failing to capitalise on a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity it signed almost a decade ago.

Sbusiso Cyril Ndaba claims that while he was a diplomat there between 2011 and 2015, the City of Los Angeles (LA) signed a multi-facet partnership with eThekwini.

But years later, with the city of eThekwini facing a rapid economic decline, battered by dirty streets, rising urban crime and contaminated beaches, the partnership was never acted upon.

Ndaba was speaking out after learning through an IOL article that the former head of Durban Tourism, Philip Sithole has left the city of eThekwini.

He contacted IOL to express his frustration about how Sithole and Eric Apelgren, eThekwini’s head of intergovernmental relations and the late deputy mayor, Nomvuzo Shabalala, flew to the US to sign the agreement and later allowed it to gather dust.

“I worked very hard for that Certificate of Friendship between these two Cities. It was an initiative and a labour of my love for our City.

“The late Ms Nomvuzo Shabalala and the late President of the Sister Cities International of LA, Tom la Bonge who passed on in 2022 and myself worked so hard on that Partnership and this City of ours, lost a great deal on that Certificate which has been gathering dust at this City.

“LA had only 3 such special relations ie London and Manchester in the UK and Lodz in Poland and Durban became the 4th and the only City in Africa.

“In our occasional telecons with Tom until his passing, he always reminded me of this lost opportunity. You can imagine that in just nineteen days from today, it would have been the 10th anniversary of the said Partnership,” Ndaba told IOL.

According to Ndaba, in January 2020, just before the county was placed on lockdown and when it was clear that the city’s beachfront pools were having problems and the city’s tourism was on the wane, he met with Mayor Mxolisi Kaunda to alert him about the partnership which could have helped.

He said Kaunda never acted even after he was told about this great opportunity.

The spokesperson of eThekwini municipality, Msawakhe Mayisela, said the friendship agreement was not a formal memorandum of understanding/sister city.

He said it was signed by a local councillor in Los Angeles and not the Mayor.

He then listed some of the benefits he claimed eThekwini has reaped from the friendship.

“We have created links with the eThekwini Maritime Cluster and the Maritime educational institutions in LA.

“We have secured links between the LA port and the Port of Durban. Transnet has been active in the partnership.

“Numerous artists and business persons have travelled to LA and benefited the city.

“Numerous South African business persons living and working in LA have established a South African-California link using LA as the base,” Mayisela claimed.

Not backing down from his assertion, Ndaba said the city of eThekwini was not being honest regarding the matter.

“The writer (Mayisela) says it wasn't an MOU as it was signed by a Councillor. Yes, it was co-signed by  Councilman Tom la Bonge on the behalf of LA in his capacity as the President of the Sister Cities International of LA at the Rotunda of the City Hall of LA with the co-signer on behalf of Ethekwini, then the Deputy Mayor of Ethekwini.

“That is the standard practice in LA. The then Mayor of LA, Antonio Villaraigosa was also present and so was I.

“The writer then goes on rambling about what the City has done almost 10 years down the line in the implementation of which all is falsehood,” Ndaba retorted.

“In a meeting with the then US Consul General in Durban, Ms Sherry Sykes on 29/01/2020 which should have marked the 8th anniversary of the signing, there was no indication that CG knew of the existence of the Certificate hence the suggestion that the Consulate General of the US is "actively servicing" the Durban-LA Partnership, a gross exaggeration,” Ndaba said.

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