A request by a good friend to accompany him as he pursued the (hopefully) love of his life brought me, this past long weekend, to Mossel Bay, a town that, frankly, I have been dismissive of since the first (and only) time I visited in the 1990s.
Boy, was I wrong! Mossel Bay has been transformed and it became abundantly clear, in the 48 hours I was here, why the town continues to attract new residents and development. A number of things stood out for me:
Firstly, they really have a great Central Business District (CBD) that is alive in the evenings. Buildings are taken care of, the streets are clean and, at night, the police regularly patrol and are visible where the bars and restaurants are located. With residential housing integrated into the CBD, it was clear that this is a town that you can easily walk around in. In fact, for the time we were there, the car remained parked.
My inquisitive mind led me to check out the latest Integrated Development Plan and the Local Economic Development and Tourism Strategic Plan for the municipality. Lo and behold, CBD regeneration was one of the objectives. But instead of just putting it into a document that gathers dust as has been the case in the Overstrand, this municipality was actually putting their (actually taxpayer’s) money where their mouth was. And it is clearly making a difference.
Based on the strength of this proactive municipality, a Tanzanian businessman I spoke with had just opened up a new restaurant, The Cork & Plunger, investing millions into restoring an historic old building and creating interiors that are simply amazing, along with 25 new jobs.
The local residents (at least the dozen or so that I spoke to) are positive about the town and what is happening. They are great ambassadors about the positive change that is taking place. Yes, Mossel Bay has the same issues as the Overstrand. But they seem to focus less on them. So often, as a Hermanus resident, I feel that the tone of our conversations very quickly takes a turn to the negative or personal.
If their website mosselbay.gov.za is anything to go by, The Mossel Bay Municipality seems to be much more accessible to their residents. Looking for information was fast and simple. By comparison, our Overstrand Municipality website overstrand.gov.za is a relic that should be relegated to the dustbin.
To ensure public participation for the IDP process, posters had been hung on street lamp posts. The calendar of council meetings and events is one of the first things you see on the website.
The tourism office is very proactive and gets involved in organising their own events as well. In fact, this past weekend, they organised the Soul Festival and used the event as an opportunity to get the whole community involved. I attended a wine show, watched open mic sessions, children’s puppet plays and dance competitions.
It does help that the Tourism Bureau is in a beautiful building with a wonderful view of the harbour, a strategic decision that was clearly taken by the municipality to highlight tourism’s importance to the town. And by the way, their tourism office is open seven days a week and has longer operating hours than the Hermanus office, opening at 8:00 during the week.
The Municipality of Mossel Bay is roughly the same size as Overstrand Municipality in terms of population and municipality budget. Both are Democratic Alliance-led. Inmigration from the Eastern Cape is a serious concern for the municipality as well. Increased homelessness was also apparent. With the exception of this past year, something the mayor was clear would be rectified this year, Mossel Bay has received clean audits for the previous six financial years.
But it does seem that Mossel Bay is tackling the same issues that we are facing in the Overstrand in a far more proactive way. So my question is: If Mossel Bay can do it, why can’t we?