MBDA, heritage and tourism stakeholders pledge to reclaim Central

Issued by Mandela Bay Development
Johannesburg, Aug 10, 2023
Signing the MOU, from left, Hayley Stirk, Central SRA; Anele Qaba, CEO of MBDA; Andrew Stewart, chair, Discover Mandela Bay; and Graham Taylor, chair, Historical Society of Port Elizabeth.

The Mandela Bay Development Agency (MBDA) and key tourism and heritage stakeholders pledged to “take a stand and fight for our heritage” with the signing of a memorandum of understanding (MOU) aimed at unlocking the tourism potential of Gqeberha’s historic Central on Tuesday, 8 August 2023.

The agreement between the MBDA and the Central Special Rating Area (SRA), Discover Mandela Bay and the Historical Society of Port Elizabeth opens the door to a formal working relationship in which the organisations share resources, skills and expertise in the interests of uplifting Central as a “heritage-led tourism asset”, MBDA CEO Anele Qaba said.

The metro’s oldest residential and commercial area, Central has a diverse, multicultural history and numerous monuments, cultural landmarks and examples of architectural heritage, but has fallen prey to urban decay, crime and vandalism that diminishes its tourism potential and deters investment.

The first outcome of the co-operative agreement is a shared calendar of Heritage Month activities for September, culminating in a Heritage and Tourism Indaba on 29 September to engage stakeholders in the area on solutions to protect heritage assets and package their tourism potential.

“Central is the historic centre of Gqeberha, a former tourism jewel, but urban decay and vandalism of infrastructure and heritage assets have hit the area hard, and more so since the COVID-19 pandemic, which created the twin problems of a law enforcement vacuum and a drastic increase in poverty and homelessness. “For too long, the CBD and inner city has become a hub for drug dens, slumlords and illegal activities, which lead to spiralling crime levels. We are witnessing our built heritage being vandalised and destroyed.

“As the MBDA, our mandate is clear – we have to take back Central, but we can’t do it alone. We need to take a stand together and fight for our heritage, and that is the purpose of this MOU,” Qaba said.

His “less talk, more action” message was echoed by the signatories to the MOU. Historical Society chair Graham Taylor said the metro’s built and cultural heritage, landmarks and monuments represented “one of our greatest opportunities to ensure growth”.

“This MOU represents a unique opportunity to foster strong collaborative partnerships to take our heritage assets forward. The metro also has a unique maritime heritage, as a centre for global trade over centuries, and we anticipate this MOU will facilitate unlocking that potential,” Taylor said. Discover Mandela Bay chair Andrew Stewart described the MOU as “a milestone in our journey, enabling collaboration with other stakeholders to stimulate tourism”.

“Key projects that we anticipate this collaboration supporting include the Mandela Statue, support for the township tourism forums and the new Wildside Way tourism route,” Stewart said.

Central SRA representative Hayley Stirk emphasised: “Stop talking and act now. We need to bring people back into the city centre and we see this MOU as a way of getting more done by working together, and making a difference by standing together,” she said. Qaba said the MOU remained open to more organisations and stakeholders willing to work with the MBDA to turn the tide in Central. “We want more role players on board but we are not waiting. We must move now, take action and lobby to get the attention of those who are supposed to be taking action against illegal activities. “In concluding this MOU, the aim is to work together in our common interests of addressing socioeconomic ills and taking action to preserve heritage assets and develop the tourism product.

Together, these actions can make a tangible difference to Central. “Bringing tourism back into a safe environment that offers a positive, interesting experience will have the knock-on effect of creating employment and a more conducive environment for residents and businesses,” Qaba said.

The MOU establishes a framework for the organisations to co-operate and collaborate on projects and activities to preserve and protect Central’s heritage assets, and package and promote the area to grow tourism. They aim to exchange information, share expertise, unlock synergies and engage in dialogue with the public in order to implement projects that make a tangible impact on improving Central as a living, working, business and tourism environment, Qaba said. He said the collaboration would contribute to diversifying the economic base of Central and the metro, and promote inclusive economic opportunities and job creation for marginalised groups, especially the youth. “Ultimately, the aim is to attract, retain and grow new tourism markets and revenue streams to return Central to being a vibrant community and attractive investment proposition,” Qaba said.

The MOU will be implemented via service level agreements and implementation agreements on specific, identified projects.

Issued by: Mandela Bay Development Agency Contact: MBDA Spokesperson, Luvuyo Bangazi – (083) 445 7776 / [email protected]