Looking back to ‘the good old days’ can’t help us now



Remember just a few years ago, when we had freely available water, we boasted that we had among the cheapest electricity in the world, loadshedding did not exist, the rail system was functional, petrol was affordable and there were frequent flights from here to major cities?


I recall imagining a future where flying cars and other technological advances would be the norm.

And, while much of this has materialised, never did I imagine that the year 2022 would be quite like this.


Now it seems we are living through a perfect storm of local and global events, and not even the smartest futurist could have predicted how a pandemic and a war would arrive in such rapid succession and with such rippling impact on supply chains, prices of consumer goods, how businesses deliver services, where and how we work, and more.


On top of that, we have a water crisis in Nelson Mandela Bay that requires not only immediate attention to reducing water consumption and fixing leaks, but also long-term planning for infrastructure maintenance and upgrading to ensure future water security.


The recent unprecedented levels of load-shedding have had massive consequences for the local economy, with manufacturers unable to meet production schedules and export orders, and workers in turn placed on short-time.


The result is not only millions of rand in lost production, damaged equipment and interrupted processes leading to increased scrap and waste, but heightened threats to job security and long-term damage to SA’s reputation as an investment destination.


A “when we” attitude, bemoaning the current situation and comparing it with some rose-tinted view of the past is not going to help us — we need to put our collective energies into addressing the problems of the present and influencing the way forward with innovative solutions.


Given the wide range of challenges in our operating environment, business is increasingly having to pursue a path of self-reliance — whether it is off-grid energy solutions, rainwater harvesting or cleaning up its own immediate surroundings. The chamber is working with business nodes of the metro to establish geographic clusters to combine efforts and resources to address issues of common interest so as to retain investment and jobs in those areas.


Similarly, our renewable energy cluster is looking to secure a renewable energy independent power producer to invest in the Bay and service a cluster of energy-intensive customers, providing for more stable electricity supply, less reliance on the national grid and mitigating some of the risks associated with the impact of load-shedding.


The impacts of climate change are already being felt, so we are driving a proactive approach to mitigation, engaging with the relevant authorities with the aim of ensuring that early-warning systems are implemented, vulnerable infrastructure is secured and the Baakens Valley is rehabilitated so that it plays its role as a vital flood barrier and carbon sink.


To date, 16 electrical substations have been provided by local businesses with security against cable theft and vandalism, ensuring a more reliable power supply to businesses and residents in those surrounding areas.


Our Adopt-A-School initiative now has more than 70 companies on board repairing leaks at schools and clinics and installing water-saving equipment such as rainwater tanks and boreholes.


The Adopt-a-Leak intervention, backed by a number of local businesses, began rolling out last week to complement the municipality’s efforts to rein in the severely high water losses.


To avert a humanitarian crisis, we have partnered with Gift of the Givers, who are moving at great speed to get boreholes in place at strategic locations in impoverished communities, such as schools, police stations and clinics.


Some question whether business should be playing a role in addressing the metro’s problems when ratepayers legitimately expect service delivery and a safe, clean and functioning environment in which to live and do business in exchange for their rates and services payments.


However, a metro that doesn’t work, doesn’t work for business.


We can keep on complaining and hoping that someone will do the right thing, but this may well result in the tipping point being breached.


Or we can roll up our sleeves, display resilience, selfreliance and adopt an actionorientated approach that goes beyond talks and helps to save investment and jobs in our metro.


We are not proposing that the politicians and government officials should be absolved from their jobs and we will in tandem with our practical actions, continue to lobby for an enabling environment to be in place.


It must be emphasised that the involvement of local businesses in our initiatives is completely voluntary.


The response of businesses, large and small, to all of these initiatives, and to our previous efforts in helping the metro’s response to Covid-19, has been amazingly generous and encouraging.


Moreover, we will continue to advocate for the politicians to put party interests aside and work in the best interests of the stakeholders of the metro as a whole.


Political stability is absolutely vital, so that municipal officials can get the support they need to deliver basic services to their constituents.


With all the negativity around us, we need to focus on what can be done, adopt a constructive attitude and take action to make a positive difference.