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The Opening Ceremony of the Learning Exchange (L-R: Tracy-Ann Hyman; Linda Mbonambi; Mrs. Opal Beharie, Secretary Manager of Westmoreland Parish Council; His Worship Bertel Moore, Mayor of Westmoreland; Zakhi Mkhize; Euraka Singh; Collin Pillay; Deputy Mayor of Westmoreland Councillor Danree Delancy; Grace Whittley)

Approximately 54% of the world’s population now lives in urban areas, and global population is expected to rise from 7 billion to 9.5 billion by 2050. In line with this, the proportion of people living in urban areas will rise to 66%, with this increase taking place primarily in African and Asian cities. They are followed by Latin America and the Caribbean region, which has the third highest rates of urbanization compared with other regions of the world. These trends have implications for how cities will deal with poverty, inequality, conflict, food security, housing, environmental sustainability and disaster risk management, among other issues. In light of this, the traditional top-down approach to urbanization may have to be revisited and alternative trajectories of urbanization considered. Modes of governance such as public-private partnerships, collaborations and coalitions may have to be considered for 2016 and beyond.

The importance of public-private partnerships, collaborations and coalitions became clearer to me during the World Social Science Fellows Seminar held at the University of KwaZulu-Natal in Durban, South Africa in September 2015. This seminar brought together researchers from all across the world to discuss the topic of Sustainable Urbanization and Emerging Modes of Governance in Urban Cities. The countries represented were Nigeria, Ghana, Spain, Uganda, China, Tanzania, India, Germany, USA, Switzerland, Argentina, Kenya, Philippines, South Africa and Jamaica. I was the only person who represented the Caribbean region.

The experience of Durban left an indelible mark in my mind, and I desired to build on the outcomes of this seminar by engaging key persons from Durban in a learning exchange. As such, I began discussions with Collin Pillay, Project Manager at the Municipal Institute of Learning (MILE), Durban and Opal Beharie, Secretary Manager of the Parish Council of Westmoreland, as to the possibilities of a learning exchange between South Africa and Jamaica.

The countries of South Africa and Jamaica have strong connections dating as far back to 1901 with the Boer War, and to 1956 when Jamaica banned trade and travel with South Africa in the stand against Apartheid. Reggae music was also used as a medium to decry the ills of Apartheid, with legendary musical voices such as Peter Tosh and Bob Marley in support. Today, things have changed for the better in South Africa and the Jamaican landscape attests to this fact. The Nelson Mandela Highway connects the parishes of St. Catherine to Kingston, and all the colours of the Jamaican Flag are in the South African Flag. Additionally, Wayde van Niekerk, a South African, has trained in Jamaica with the sports legend Usain Bolt.

A learning exchange between the two nations would aim to facilitate knowledge transfer, capacity building and mutual cooperation between the municipalities. Importantly, this exchange would take place at a critical time, as the parish of Westmoreland was (and still is) engaged in the development of its local sustainable development plan. One of the key outputs of a learning exchange would be feedback on (and critique of) Westmoreland’s local sustainable plan from the South African delegation.

The City to City learning exchange became a reality in June 2016, when a delegation from the eThekwini Municipality in Durban travelled to Savanna-la-mar, Westmoreland, Jamaica for five days of City to City learning Exchange. The Delegation included Linda Mbonambi – Head, Area based Management, Collin Pillay – Program Manager: MILE, Eurakha Singh – Project Manager and Zakhi Mkhize – City Planner.

Overall, the time together was enlightening and fruitful with five key lessons emerging:

    1. Focus on people and citizen participation in governance and development
      It is important that municipalities conduct regular needs assessments to find out about the challenges faced by their citizens. The eThekwini Municipality, in particular, conducts need assessments every three years. Given that most of Westmoreland’s population is below 35 years old (2011 Census) it was suggested that the Sustainable Development plan place heavy emphasis on youth empowerment and development. It is also important to involve citizens in the planning and governance process. This type of community-focused approach aims to empower citizens to create sustainable livelihoods for themselves. This is expressed in the South African phrase ‘Sukuma Sakhe,’ which means ‘Stand up and build’ or  ‘Ubuntu’ ‘I am because you are’ – highlighting the importance of sharing  knowledge and resources with each other.
    2. Collaborate with researchers to support evidence based policy and planning
      MILE in Durban organizes round-table talks between academics and local government officials to connect research with policy, in order to improve municipal delivery. Ties between academia and local government are further strengthened through the use of ‘gatekeeper letters,’ whereby the municipality enters into agreements with universities, who commit to sharing the results of their research with the municipality (especially if the latter provided data or information resources).
    3. Make plans for development based on spatial visioning and principles of connection
      In the eThekwini Municipality’s local sustainable plans, social service nodes are included at specific points in the city, roughly 5 minutes’ walk apart from each other. The eThekwini municipality also intends to expand the number of bike routes to create a ‘bike-able’ as well as ‘walk-able’ city for 40,000 inhabitants. The use of Geographic Information Systems has been integral to this process of spatial visioning for Durban, and the Westmoreland Parish Council recently started using this software to improve their planning capacities.
    4. Find your niche
      Durban has drawn on niche markets, in particular sporting opportunities, such as hosting a training camp for the Arsenal football team during their off-season. Westmoreland could promote its rich history by developing eco-tourism and community-based tourism products, such as establishing heritage walks that incorporate the Peter Tosh monument in Belmont. In the South Durban Basin, there are serious challenges with air pollution, yet there is a scenic coastline that has tourism potential. A key point of discussion during the exchange was how the South Durban Basin could be developed and marketed to tourists with the help of Westmoreland, as it already has a viable mass tourism market.
    5. Make disaster planning mandatory.
      Planning for when things go wrong – be it extreme weather or other unexpected events – is crucial to local government sustainable development plans. The inclusion of Disaster Risk Management in local sustainable plans is a must! This was a recurrent point throughout the learning exchange.

The desired outcome of this City to City learning exchange is a Sister-City Partnership between Durban, South Africa and Savanna-La-Mar, Jamaica. Prior to this, no such partnership has existed between South Africa and a Caribbean Island. In October 2016, a Letter of Intent was signed between both municipalities, with the aim of establishing a Sister-City Partnership in the near future. Westmoreland is thus committed to supporting the eThekwini’s Municipality vision to be the most caring and liveable city in Africa by 2030, while Durban supports Jamaica and Westmoreland’s vision to become the place of choice to live, work, raise families, and do business by 2030.

I am glad to have initiated and contributed to such an important event, and to have witnessed this milestone in the history of both nations. I look forward to being part of the process of deepening the ties between the two countries through the vehicle of collaboration.

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Members of the South African Delegation with His Worship the Mayor, Bertel Moore (Second from left), alongside ‘Tuffist’ (far left) and Donovan (centre) at the Peter Tosh Monument in Belmont, Westmoreland.

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The World Social Science Fellows Seminar ‘Sustainable Urbanisation III’ took place from September 9th to 13th in Durban, South Africa. organized by the International Social Science Council (ISSC) in partnership with the Comparative Research Programme on Poverty (CROP) and the Cities Alliance. It was generously hosted by the Municipal Institute of Learning (MILE), eThekwini Municipality, Durban, South Africa.

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