Vision, ambition needed to transcend present Bay challenges
In early 2018, the Nelson Mandela Bay Municipality tasked the MBDA to champion a competitive campaign call for a major catalytic project that could put the city among the top in the world. The initiative invited every citizen to sketch an ambitious design that they believed, if followed through, could make the Bay a competitive and successful tourism and investment destination.
An esteemed panel comprising architects, academics and social scientists was established to evaluate the submissions and recommend to the mayoral committee. Tens of submissions were received, but in the end, a consortium led by a former Bay resident, and leader of a global creative agency, won the competition. MC Saatchi and Partners, whose submission was: The Nelson Mandela Tower of Light, was positioned as an iconic legacy development that could leverage our namesake and draw millions to our city.
The Nelson Mandela Tower of Light, earmarked for a site near St Georges Park, would stand 27 storeys high – symbolic of the years Mandela spent in prison. But will it ever happen, you may ask. Mike Abel, leader of the consortium that put together the submission, recently hosted a TED talk with NMU students, challenging them to be the force of creative change and help they Bay reignite the flames for greatness, inspired by the Tower of Light.
This visionary campaign was initiated in February 2018 under the mayorship of Athol Trollip, but was unveiled in October of 2018 by the late mayor Mongameli Bobani, transcending politics.
I mention this because on 2 December, the MBDA presented a draft five-year strategy at an NMBM IDP session for business. Along with this presentation, the MBDA availed an economic modelling document detailing the Project Impact Assessment from a possible R5 billion worth of developments. Economic modelling is not a prediction, but it gives a forecast of potential outcomes under specific variables and acts as a guide for decision-making.
This newspaper on 17 December published a piece unpacking the elements of the MBDA strategy and the R5 billion projects pipeline. Although feedback was encouraging, unfortunately, some demonstrated a serious lack of understanding of basic economics, intergovernmental workings and the appreciation of long-term planning during current challenges.
The MBDA is fully aware of the constrained financial position of the city, in fact, at the very same IDP meeting, our colleagues from Budget & Treasury gave a view of the Bay’s collection rate. With that knowledge, it would not make any sense for the MBDA to be requesting billions from the city. What we are proposing and have been discussing at length with various directorates is a partnership that is focused along three strategic thrusts to unleashing this city’s immense potential. Even the bible in Proverbs 29:18 says where there is no vision (strategy), the people perish. The last compelling vision was Vision 2020.
The first thrust of the MBDA strategy relates to total precinct management, an arrangement that will see the MBDA assuming service delivery roles in specifically demarcated areas. These demarcated areas or precincts are where the MBDA already has a footprint, such as the Lower Baakens (The Tramways), North End (Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium) and Kariega CBD (NMB Science and Technology Centre). The presence of the MBDA in these areas provides a launch pad for improved service delivery that assists with sustaining the commercial or economic bread and butter of the Bay. These precincts are critical in sustaining and growing the revenue base, jobs retention and city improvement for tourism and investment.
In 2019, at the invitation of the USA government, I participated in a 21-day learnership programme focused on urban revitalisation, in particular, port and industrial cities. The common thread observed is that civil society has agreements with the municipality to urgently deal with faulty streetlights, minor road repairs, security and cleansing. This breakdown of silos can only benefit citizens and the economy.
The second thrust of the MBDA strategy is project management services provision, a commercialisation of certain agency capabilities to various spheres of government to speed up service delivery. The MBDA was always supposed to generate its own revenue to supplement what the city provides. In the 20 years of our existence, we have amassed the expertise to enable us to on-sell our capabilities. Some institutions, including the NMBM, are already tapping into these capabilities, be it strategic events, project management or crisis communication.
The third thrust relates to the R5 billion worth of projects, we call it game changing catalytic programmes. This category of projects cannot be funded by city funds, they come once in a lifetime and require public and private sector partnerships. These capital projects require venture capital and rigorous investment promotion driven by sustainable business modelling. If the MBDA can successfully turn around a dilapidated Tramways building into a hive of markets, product launches and the arts, then there is no doubt, dormant assets such as Beachview, Springs, Wolfson and many others could be brought to life as revenue streams to improve the city’s financial position in future. In a matter of days, work starts at Bayworld, but let us be frank, the project needs significant investment from beyond the city’s coffers.
Backed by another clean audit finding from the AG for 2021/22, and having worked successfully with the IDC, and German Development Bank, KfW, we think the MBDA has the standing to collaborate on these efforts. The agency’s control systems have been tested for over 20 years and we continue to strengthen them. Basic service delivery across the metro is clearly a municipal function, but propelling the city to greater heights requires more players, business, civil society and quasi government entities such as the MBDA. None of these entities alone should replace or compete with local government, but by working together we can complement the city. The MBDA’s new five-year plan is one of the tools available to fully unleash the Bay’s potential.