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Picture: ISTOCK
Picture: ISTOCK


An ethical and capable state that ensures a stable and conducive environment for domestic and foreign investment, business, trade, social cohesion and upliftment of communities is the proven route to address poverty, unemployment and inequality. SA can ill-afford the violence and disruption that took place across C and Gauteng last month. It is a major setback for the much-needed renewal and strengthening of state capability through approaches such as the district development model (DDM) being piloted in eThekwini which houses about 35% of the KwaZulu-Natal population and accounts for about 65% of the provincial economic output and 10% of national output.

eThekwini is a strategic consideration in the national space economy playing a critical role in regional spatial and economic integration due to its geographic location and port endowment. As such, eThekwini would have to be regarded as a national asset and its infrastructure and growth has to be protected and harnessed in the national interest. This is part of the reason it was chosen as one of threeDDM pilot sites to break down “silos” and improve service delivery and development outcomes through better government co-ordination both horizontally and vertically.

The violence and anarchy that engulfed KwaZulu-Natal in July occurred amid the significant progress that was being made with the piloting of the DDM in eThekwini which was launched by President Ramaphosa in October 2019. This has surely dented the co-ordinated government effort at strategically positioning eThekwini as a competitive, inclusive and sustainable Smart Port City Region and trade hub for the Southern African region.

Since the launch of the DDM in eThekwini, co-ordinated and joint work was being undertaken by all three spheres of government to unblock critical delivery systems. This included port decongestion through improved turnaround times and systems at the Durban harbour, improved service delivery through Operation Good Hope as an area-based rapid-response system, identification of city governance and financial sustainability improvement measures, and implementation of economic recovery interventions. eThekwini was recognised by the World Bank’s Competitive Cities Programme as one of the best practice cities for its economic response to the global Covid-19 pandemic.

The DDM is a practical impact-orientated method by which all three spheres of government converge at district or metropolitan level in a spatially targeted and strategic way to break down “silos” in government and ensure better and more coherent service delivery and development outcomes in each of the 52 district and metropolitan areas of the country. It involves collaboration by all three spheres of government as a coherent collective with key stakeholders, civil society and the private sector to address immediate problems and opportunities as well setting and implementing a long-term strategic framework or “One Plan” as intergovernmental and social compact. This approach enables a common understanding across government and society of the key challenges and opportunities, a shared vision for growth and development of the area, and a logical pathway towards realising the vision and desired future.

The eThekwini One Plan is overseen by an intergovernmental DDM political hub committee consisting of political champions from all three spheres of government appointed by the respective executives of each sphere. The plan as a compact containing implementation commitments by all three spheres of government and stakeholders is to be recommended for adoption by cabinet. This can serve to restore investor confidence through a demonstrated commitment at the highest level to a long-term predictable programme of action. It can also advance social cohesion underpinned by meaningful upliftment of people, especially the most vulnerable and marginalised, as part of the rebuilding efforts after the devastating violence in the city.

The eThekwini One Plan is in effect an implementation instrument for the National Development Plan (NDP) as it localises national priorities and objectives, and synergises the priories of all three spheres of government including the participatory Integrated Development Plan of the city to fundamentally change the fortunes of eThekwini residents by addressing the root causes of structural and systemic poverty, unemployment and inequality.

Poverty and other social challenges including drug abuse, teenage pregnancy and gender-based violence manifest in eThekwini more strongly than in many of the other metropolitan areas in the country. According to the DDM profiling, “the metro has 3.9-million people, accounting for 34.7% of the total population of the province. Between 2008 and 2018, the population grew by 1.45% (which is lower than the national average of 1.57%). The metro has an average household size of 3.3, which is lower than the provincial average of 3.8. Close to 30% of the population is under the age of 15 years and 63% of the population is under 35. Furthermore, 8,802 households are headed by children and young people between 15 and 19, and 42.14% of households are headed by women. 2.1-million of eThekwini’s residents live below the upper bound poverty line of R1,227 per person a month, and 17.1% of the population reported having no income in the 2016 Stats SA Community Survey. 16.8% of the population has no education while 5.8% has a higher education qualification”.

The eThekwini One Plan and implementation is an institutionalised and programmatic way of addressing the structural and systemic impediments and raising inclusive economic growth, which is currently below the population growth level, with a strategic focus on people upliftment and development and the competitive economic positioning of the area in a sustainable way. The One Plan identifies a spatial priority framework that will co-ordinate all government and infrastructure and private investment including port upgrading by Transnet that has to be integrated with inner city and surrounds renewal undertaken by the city to realise the port as a trade, tourism and lifestyle Smart City Port. There are several high-impact catalytic infrastructure projects that have been packaged in the One Plan to the tune of R132bn. These projects will activate key economic and human settlement corridors and nodes, and will generate significant construction as well as sustainable jobs.

Maintaining a focus on the DDM as part of strengthening state capability can assist in restoring investor confidence and overcoming the negative effects of the riots, or what can only be described as economic sabotage. There are lessons for the country emanating from this in the necessity for managing the intricate relations between national political stability, safety and security of the country and communities, and the conducive environment needed for city and local economic development.

Ultimately the economy of the country is practically expressed in local spaces and can only grow in a sustainable way through the string of local spaces and economies that each have to be deliberately harnessed and strategically developed according to their unique conditions and potentials in a co-ordinated and integrated way. This has been the path by which economically successful countries internationally have traversed in ensuring a conducive environment and supporting their key regions and cities to be globally competitive and inclusive, and increasingly and necessarily technologically smart and environmentally sustainable.

• Patel, a former deputy director-general in national government and past president of the South African Planning Institute, is an integrated development specialist. He provided technical advisory support to government on the DDM. 


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