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MBDA think-tank explores the future of Helenvale

Feb 8, 2018
MBDA think-tank explores the future of Helenvale

Debating future strategies to curb gangsterism, reduce crime and enhance positive development in challenges neighbourhoods and communities was a key objective of the ‘Mandela Bay Think Tank Dialogue’ a multi-disciplinary stakeholder session hosted by the Nelson Mandela Bay Development Agency (MBDA) from Monday 5th till Tuesday 6th.

The think-tank, aimed at exploring alternative approaches to development in volatile and fragile communities, brought together specialists and community members from around the country to discuss and debate some of the core issues affecting life and development in similar areas.

Helenvale is currently the focus of the 5 million Euro German KfW Bank funded Safety and Peace through Urban Upgrading (SPUU).

Crime, gangsterism, youth, education, a lack of social cohesion, identity dynamics, a lack of recreational facilities, the role of the shadow economy and the influence of urban design all emerged as important areas of concern during the full-day discussions.

“There is a need for dialogue, a sharing of ideas and a disruption of the current systems. We need to break the generational trauma experienced by the people of Helenvale and move towards healing and inclusive development,” MBDA Board Chairperson Phil Goduka said.

Adopting a scenario planning approach to the think-tank, participants engaged in robust discussions and debates around some of the core challenges and issues facing an area popularly nicknamed ‘Katanga’ after the war-torn province in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Prof Theodore Petrus, Research Professor of Social Sciences at the University of Forte Hare highlighted coloured identity dynamics and a ‘culture of poverty’ as major obstacles to development in places like Helenvale. He described a ‘culture of poverty’ as being characterised by negative traits such as a sense of hopelessness, apathy and disdain for authority.

“The older generation transfers these value systems and traits to the younger generation, and so regardless of any type of development initiatives that are undertaken, unless one breaks the values of the culture of poverty, the culture remains in place even though the surrounding environment might change,” he said.

“It is the culture that needs to be addressed in order for the surrounding infrastructure developments to really make a positive impact in the community,” he added.

“A child is like a sponge, if you put a sponge in dirty water it will absorb it, if you put a sponge in clean water it will absorb it, we need to start with the youth,” Yolanda Faro, Metro Police Chief said.

Speaking at the workshop Faro called for a focus on the youth as instigators of change and highlighted domestic violence, school dropouts, and the lack of after-school recreational facilities as key contributing factors to the hopelessness and disillusionment currently faced by many people in Helenvale.

“The waste in Helenvale is a powerful metaphor for how people view themselves.” This was according to Moosa Mahadick, Principal of Ottery Youth Care Centre in Cape Town, who further emphasised that children need to be at the heart of any upliftment and development program both in Helenvale and around the country.

Based on initial strategic conversations related to the various issues impacting Helenvale, participants collaborated to explore a range of possible futures or strategic solutions for the current challenges facing development initiatives in the township and surrounding Northern Areas.

These possible strategies, related to social cohesion, development planning, economic development and skills training included, among others:

  •  Re-establish a sense of heritage and identity in Helenvale;
  • Move away from a dependency approach (i.e. handouts) towards one that encourages people to take ownership of their situation and development in their communities;
  • Use and enhance existing resources, skills and knowledge. In particular, there is a need to support and empower existing schools and faith-based institutions to instigate and facilitate change;
  • Transition from a scarcity mindset to an abundance mindset – look at what is already available to communities in Helenvale and build on these positive resources;
  • There needs to be collaboration and consistency between all state entities;
  • The people and community of Helenvale need to be the at the core of any development initiative;
  • There is a need for the de-stigmatisation of Helenvale;
  • Facilitate extracurricular activities for children and youth;
  • Engage local communities to change their communication style from protest to participation and dialogue; and
  • Engage with gangsters to solve current problems.

“As the MBDA we need to immerse ourselves in the community, be involved in how they think so that we can understand the impact of what we are doing and how our development initiatives can speak to the direct needs of the community,” Goduka said.

Speaking on the approach and methodology in executing this initiative, MBDA Chief Executive Officer Ashraf Adam said “The ‘Helenvale’ Dialogue was a two-day event hosted by the MBDA aimed at providing a platform for strategic conversations on the big issues facing Helenvale.

"The Executive Mayor of Nelson Mandela Bay Cllr Athol Trollip kicked off the two day engagement when he along with delegates participated in a field trip to Helenvale on day one.

"Day two was a round table format conversation facilitate by respected scenarios specialist and leading thinker Dr Yaccoob Abba Omar.

"Dr Yacoob Abba Omar is Head of Strategy & Communications at the Banking Association of South Africa. Based on the suggestions and findings of the discussion a second, follow up workshop to map out long-term goals for the MBDA and Helenvale will be held later this year”.

“Helenvale is a test case for the whole country, what you fix here you fix for the country. I really hope you get it right,” Don Pinnock, the author of Gang Town said.

“Helenvale is a unique place. It is one of the most peaceful communities in the city and then it experiences very drastic, dramatic incidences of violence. The area is not a violent hostile community, it’s far from it. It’s a community that embraces each other. I don’t believe the community is trouble, I believe the community just needs help,” Athol Trollip, Nelson Mandela Bay Mayor said.

Helenvale, with its 42 streets and approximately 30 000 residents is home to some of Nelson Mandela Bay’s poorest communities. The Helenvale Dialogue formed part of the extended Safety and Peace Though Urban Upgrade Programme (SPUU) which is aimed at providing increased security, peace and a better quality of life for the people of Helenvale.

Image: STRATEGIC CONVERSATIONS: A two-day strategic dialogue on issues and challenges faced by the community of Helenvale was hosted by the Nelson Mandela Bay Development Agency (MBDA) in Port Elizabeth this week. Middle – Executive Mayor Athol Trollip, right is MBDA CEO Ashraf Adam and representative of the NMBM Metro Police.