IN responding to The Herald article, "Mayor backs costly trip to Algeria” (July 5), it is perhaps important, for the benefit of your readers, to offer a brief perspective on the concept of sister city partnerships. It is not a new phenomenon – many cities across the world have entered into such partnerships, with the aim of forging mutually beneficial cultural and commercial relations.
The Nelson Mandela Bay Municipality, supported by the Department of International Relations and Co-operation as well as the South African Local Government Association, has, for a while now, sought to leverage sister city relationships as a driver of economic development. The city realised early on that the key to driving meaningful growth and development lay in altering conventional thinking, and pursuing a more robust and comprehensive development strategy.
In pursuance of this strategy, to date, the municipality has concluded nine international partnerships. Of the nine, seven are active, namely:
- Goteborg, Sweden (November 23 1999);
- Jacksonville, Florida, United States (February 24 2000);
- Ningbo, China (September 17 2003);
- Annaba, Algeria (February 27 2007);
- Wakhinane Nimzath, Dakar, Senegal (August 1 2007);
- Beira, Mozambique (June 23 2008) and
- Tyne and Wear Museums, Newcastle, England (November 27 2008).
Driven by the municipality’s international relations unit, our international engagement strategy is consistent with national policy and is informed by the following:
- Basic service delivery needs;
- Poverty and socioeconomic development needs;
- Capacity building, knowledge exchange and best practices;
- The need for innovation and creativity in dealing with key societal challenges;
- Promoting tourism, trade and investment;
- The need to address global, national, provincial/regional or local challenges;
- Building democracy and sustainable livelihoods; and
- Strategic political direction locally, provincially and nationally.
It is important also to note that the international relations unit is allocated a budget to fund the municipality’s annual international partnership programme.
I provide this background to dispel some misconceptions evident from your article. Firstly, an impression was created that the executive mayor was reckless in approving the trip, as if it was not properly planned and budgeted for.
A more disturbing insinuation, which points to your lack of appreciation of international relations, relates to the suggestion that the trip holds no tangible benefits for the city and its residents.
The invitation to attend Algeria’s 50th anniversary celebrations was received well in advance. Given the nature of our relations with the city of Annaba, which include co-operation in areas such as environmental management, tourism, economic development, social development, culture, sport and urban planning, coupled with the historical ties between South Africa and Algeria, it was deemed important and appropriate that a representation be sent to Annaba to celebrate this milestone event with its people.
One important lesson learnt in building sound and sustainable international relations is that one does not spurn events of national importance celebrated and cherished by one’s sister cities.
Accepting a hand of friendship that is extended serves to strengthen relations and builds trust between sister cities.
As explained in the response given to your reporter, the second motivation was further to explore business opportunities between the two cities.
In September last year, a delegation, led by the mayor of Annaba, visited Nelson Mandela Bay. One of the highlights of that trip was the signing of a memorandum of understanding between the various business chambers of the two cities, wherein they pledged to work together to pursue mutually beneficial economic relations.
During the visit, Annaba expressed interest in a number of business initiatives, including energy-efficient street lighting and solar water heating. These are projects run by locally based companies.
Part of the speaker’s brief was to engage further on these opportunities and a breakthrough was achieved in this regard with the mayor of Annaba confirming that a business delegation would visit Nelson Mandela Bay during September/October to pursue these projects further with the view to formalising working relations in this regard.
In this era of globalisation, it is important for cities to innovate and look for new ways of attracting investments into their shores. Sister city partnerships provide another developmental paradigm through their ability to educate and link different cultures and geographic areas with each other.
As a municipality we will continue to prioritise the strengthening of relations with our sister cities with the view to building a better and more prosperous Nelson Mandela Bay.
Luncedo Njezula, spokesman: office of the executive mayor, Nelson Mandela Bay Municipality