MBDA 20 years on, and much more still to be achieved

Issued by Mandela Bay Development
Johannesburg, Feb 6, 2023
Debbie Hendricks, Operations Executive responsible for Capital Programmes and related operations.

It is rather fitting for the MBDA to celebrate its 20th year in existence with a Clean Audit Report from the Auditor General of South Africa. The entity was established in 2003 in an effort by the Nelson Mandela Bay Municipality to reverse urban decay in the inner city.

The goal then was to ensure that the mandate area becomes vibrant and economically functional, as well as attractive to investors, residents and visitors. Essentially, the MBDA was a project management company focusing on strategic public sector investment in public spaces and infrastructure that would ultimately be a catalyst for downstream private sector investment.

So, now, 20 years down the line, we are looking back at the history of the organisation and its work to date. A lot has been achieved, if you look at the Baakens or Singaphi Street, but we must accept and say that a lot has since been undone and therefore even more remains to be done. The true and raw answer is that we are far from the envisaged economic, social and spatial transformation of the CBD mooted by the pioneers of the agency.

The MBDA is currently in the process of developing its strategy and its plans for the next five years. It has meant taking a good, hard look at who we are and where we are going. So much has changed. The mandate has expanded to other areas and the agency has had to keep reinventing itself to be relevant, dynamic and impactful.

Recent engagements with our stakeholders have, however, pointed to a strong view that we are to revisit our original mandate and that we once again concentrate our efforts on the rejuvenation of the inner city area. All major cities are experiencing inner city urban degradation, and in all cases, these are a long-term challenge. What is also clear is that we must be more creative and modern in our approaches and especially intentional to be innovative in the solutions we employ. There are great examples of inner city rejuvenation projects across the world and they are reaping the benefits of long-term planning, sustained initiatives that are co-created with active citizenry, and in partnership with community structures such as special ratings areas (SRAs) or business or city improvement districts. The MBDA has embarked on this methodology with Richmond Hill and Central SRAs and the positive results are already evident. We are looking to roll this out in other areas as well.

On the flip-side, there is also a strong view that there are many outlying township areas crying out for the bare minimum of development, while there is an agency that can be deployed in assisting in the plight of the most impoverished areas. The debate of township and inner city has been going on for some time, with both making a strong case for special attention. The fact is that one must do both. Yes, the heart of the city is the centre of government, arts and culture, entertainment, high density housing, transport, etc, but the township areas are still in a battle to have their very basic service delivery needs met. The reality is that both are equally important for the city.

The big question is then, what do we as the MBDA focus on? We cannot be all things to all. We also need to caution that the MBDA is not seen as an alternative or parallel organisation usurping the duties of municipal directorates. That is not what the agency was created for. Roles and responsibilities must be clarified right from a project inception to issues of maintenance and security post-construction.

We are reminded that the agency is at the behest of the municipality and takes its mandate from the municipality. It is intended to be a special purpose vehicle that assists the municipality in achieving its development vision. However, in recent years, this has placed the agency in a difficult situation because that vision has not always been very clear. Congruently to that, the extraordinary and all too regular changes in city leadership both politically and administratively has had a detrimental impact in terms of planning, prioritisation and implementation of projects.

The constant changes mean that any plans the MBDA hopes to implement must be embedded in sound governance arrangements pursuant to achieve resilience and sustainability for the agency.

Currently, the proposed strategy is for the agency to focus on three precincts in the metro comprising a revived area-based management approach (also referred to as total precinct management). For now, it is intended to focus on Gqeberha CBD precinct, the precinct around the stadium as well as the Kariega/Despatch CBD precinct. The concept seeks to employ an integrated approach to address a range of issues such as cleanliness, safety and security, economic development initiatives, land packaging for development, minor maintenance, facilities management, capital and non-capital project implementation, stakeholder engagement, etc, within a defined precinct area. The plan entails a programme of addressing the challenges on a block-by-block basis phased over the next five-year period. Successes of the approach could then be expanded to other nodes.

We further propose that the entity, in conjunction with the city, identify strategic impactful projects where the agency can be deployed to implement mega projects both in the inner city, strategic nodes and in the townships, which has the potential to change the outlook for local communities, the city and the region.

The MBDA team is entering a new chapter and is excited about the possibilities on the horizon. We believe we live and work in a great city that has all the ingredients to be an amazing city. We want to be part of the solutions with our development partners going forward. We would love for you to engage with us and would welcome any comments on the MBDA five-year plan. E-mail [email protected] or reach us on social media.