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How political instability has ruined Nelson Mandela Bay Metro

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Xolisa Phillip has had quite an adventure as a journalist in the roles of subeditor, news editor, columnist and commentator. She pretends to be Olivia Pope during the day, while still maintaining a presence in journalism – a passion project she cannot shake away. Journalism keeps finding Phillip no matter where she is and somewhat manages to hold its own space no matter where she is professionally.

Gqeberha, the biggest city in the Nelson Mandela Bay Metro, has fallen from grace. Formerly known as Port Elizabeth, the city’s decline can be traced back to prolonged political manoeuvring. This once-quaint city has turned into an eyesore and no party holding a seat at City Hall can claim innocence.

Nelson Mandela Bay Metro’s administrative woes and the region’s dysfunctional political brinkmanship are well documented. The metro was once synonymous with promising signs of good governance, groundbreaking administrative solutions, spotless streets, sparkling beaches and decent roads.

The metro turns 20 this year, and its initial potential has been stifled by years of messy politics and a sustained onslaught on effective administration. The latter leaves little room for accountability and is highly constraining to consequence management. Shoddy administration creates the ideal conditions for political wheeling and dealing. The politicians have exploited this status quo, but to what end, one wonders.

The consequences of this toxic tango at City Hall have spilt over into the streets, where the administrative decay is now visible and beyond doubt. This is nowhere more apparent than in Gqeberha, the largest city in the metro.

The Friendly City has turned into an eyesore: from Central, Govan Mbeki Avenue, Albany Road and Cape Road to Pier 14, Korsten and the R72 road leading to Zwide, rubbish is strewn along the streets and blown about by the ever-present wind. The choking stench is inescapable.

Five years ago, and certainly 10 or 15 years back, such a sight would have been inconceivable for Gqeberha. The politics may have not been outstanding, but other components of the city ran like clockwork. No offence to the City of Johannesburg, but Gqeberha is now on a par with the former’s unsightly inner city in the filth stakes. This is not to take away from Johannesburg’s positioning as a world-class African city, or to make light of the fact that the City of Gold is a place of opportunity.

The patchy water situation in Nelson Mandela Bay Metro was addressed in an earlier piece. In addition to the water supply constraints, general infrastructure is another area where Gqeberha’s politics are getting in the way of governance.

Previously, potholes on the Windy City’s roads were unheard of — an inconvenience not experienced by Gqeberha residents. That is no longer the case. There are potholes everywhere — at least on most major routes — on the city’s crumbling roads.

It was bittersweet seeing the region’s long-awaited integrated public transport system service, Libhongolethu (Our Pride, in isiXhosa), with a tagline, “Moving the metro forward”, buses zipping along the littered and potholed roads. The region’s papers have captured, covered and tracked the controversies surrounding the system.

Nelson Mandela Bay Metro was supposed to be different in a corruption-riddled province such as the Eastern Cape. It had the makings of a standout metro, or at least a functional one. It had the potential to rewrite the tale of woe besetting the province’s municipalities. But it was not to be.

The dominant party model, with an outright majority, has not worked for Nelson Mandela Bay metro. Neither has a coalition framework. In fact, the latter has deepened and fast-tracked troubles. The administrative talent has been hollowed out with each successive bout of political instability.

The squabbles at City Hall have translated into rubble and rot on the streets. There is a looming local government election, but none of the parties operating in the metro has covered itself in glory. All the parties are complicit in the mess. BM/DM

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  • It is time to take politics out of local government. The well-being of residents is too important to be entrusted to politicians dictated to by head offices outside the metro, who see it as a stepping stone to “national” profiles and salaries – or just a way to steal. Civic movements are needed.

  • Port Elizabeth has only joined Kimberley and Mahikeng and any number of towns that I don’t yet know about.
    We are just seeing the approach to infrastructure observed in the rest of Africa.