Persevering in Perseverance is a collective effort



By Siyolo Dick

The power of putting individual interests aside and collaborating for the greater good is not just a philosophical notion but something we have seen in action regularly in our country in recent years and through recent crises.

The creation of successful regional investment and tourism agencies, industrial development zones, city improvement districts and development agencies that spark private sector investment, mega infrastructure projects that become job-creating tourism and business hubs – these have all involved role players across business, civil society and government agreeing to work together to create something bigger and more impactful than what they could have done alone.

Similarly, in times of crisis such as the unrest and looting in KZN and Gauteng last year, or in our metro’s current water crisis, we see businesses and civil society volunteering to work collectively alongside government to fix what’s broken, clean up and repair damage, and ensure service delivery to those who need it most.

In the small industrial area of Perseverance we are seeing the same spirit and commitment in action with the formalisation of a business cluster in the Perseverance Business Owners’ Association (PBOA), a collaborative effort to address shared challenges facing our area.

Perseverance is perhaps aptly named, as many of the businesses in the area have persisted with their operations, some since the 1970s, despite voicing frustrations for some years with problems of stable electricity supply, water infrastructure, illegal dumping and litter, road maintenance, and general safety and security in the area.

The area is small, a roughly triangular 2n.5km2 area, but it has significant economic impact – we estimate employment of approximately 10 000, a similar employment level to the Coega SEZ, in a much smaller area; and business investments over the past few years of which we are aware total more than R1.65bn.

Companies in Perseverance include several large multinational operations, manufacturers supplying the auto industry, a number of major exporters and listed companies, large fast-moving consumer goods businesses, logistics operations and small- and medium-size manufacturing, engineering and transport businesses.

Several of these companies have been working together for more than a year, voluntarily contributing resources to repair potholes, secure the electrical substation, clear illegal dumping and erect ‘no dumping’ signs, aerial surveys of the water pipelines, cleaning stormwater drains and assisting with maintenance of the municipal sewerage pump station to prevent blockages due to overflow into the stormwater canal.

This was taken further earlier this year with the establishment of the PBOA with a constitution and an elected executive.

So far, we have developed a strategy and operating model to give focus and structure to what we aim to achieve, identifying short- and longer-term priorities and actions, and we have presented these to the Perseverance business community.

The Business Chamber is providing administration support, including managing the finances contributed by participating businesses, and project management to drive and coordinate our initiatives.

Through the Chamber’s Adopt A Substation initiatives, members of the PBOA are contributing to the security of the substation that serves Perseverance, protecting against vandalism and cable theft and ensuring reliable electricity supply for industry and surrounding residential areas. 

Next on our agenda are a number of small but impactful “quick wins” – repairing traffic lights, street lights and potholes, improving road signage, tackling the illegally dumped rubbish and rubble – so that all can see visible progress.

We believe that improving the area will be good not only for business, but for our employees and the surrounding communities too, and we see potential in collaborating on recycling both to clean up the area and to create economic opportunities, and in strengthening existing corporate social investment initiatives by working together to make a greater impact.

Despite the challenges, Perseverance is an attractive location for manufacturers, exporters and logistics businesses – well-connected to transport routes, the Coega SEZ, major auto manufacturers and suppliers, and the ports of Ngqura and Port Elizabeth for exports – and we believe that if we can create a better operating environment, Perseverance can be an attractive investment destination, to the benefit of Nelson Mandela Bay.

In the longer-term, the PBOA aims to work towards Perseverance becoming a formal industrial park and potentially a special economic zone which becomes a hub for skills development, a greener and more environmentally sustainable precinct, and providing greater employment and security in the surrounding communities.

Some will argue that business should not be doing government’s job, but we see these efforts as necessary to secure a stable operating environment for business, to retain existing investments and protect jobs.

Our approach is to work in tandem with local government while also advocating for improved service delivery, and as a formal business association, Perseverance now has a stronger voice to do this.

Rather than complaining and hoping the situation will improve, businesses in the Perseverance area have showed willing to roll up their sleeves and take action to ensure a self-sufficient and business-friendly precinct, with a shared future vision of a formalised industrial zone able to attract new investment and jobs.

Siyolo Dick is Chair of the Perseverance Business Owners’ Association and from 01 August as Managing Director for Spar Eastern Cape.