Mates and professional counterparts often ask me why I decided to relocate to Pietermaritzburg, especially with this being my return to the capital city of KwaZulu-Natal having previously been a resident for about three years before? Having worked in two of the biggest economic hubs in the form of Durban and Richards Bay, why settle for the “sleepy hollow”? I am always quick to remind them that the city long shed its “sleepy hollow” tag and is well on the way of re-branding itself. There are often baffled by my chose and for not going for the more attractive and much more developed and trendier metropoles elsewhere. As attractive and tantalising as other more developed cities may seem, uMgungundlovu District is the place to be.
I always use the comparison that as the capital city of this province, Pietermaritzburg is to Durban what Pretoria is to Johannesburg and this captures the essence of how each is different to the other. While this is the legislative capital of the province, Durban is the business capital of the same. While major decisions are taken in the capital city and strategies are carved here, additional tools and muscles come from the business capital.
As opposed to one aspiring to be like the other, we need to realise that the difference in the offering is what makes these two cities to coexist so this has never been more critical. If the one were the mirror of the other, the one would become obsolete and would die out meaning that the difference is at the centre of their coexistence.
While Durban is much more developed in terms of infrastructure, its economy, tourism and other sectors, this district is still a pretty much developing economy, one I would liken to those of Brics [Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Africa] countries – in the bigger scheme of things. These are economies which are continually growing, thanks to endless business opportunities and they have been resilient during the treacherous recession. This has been while your first world economies like the United States of America, Greece, Spain, Portugal, amongst many others, have been reeling in near depression. The presidency, through various national projects, has committed hundreds of billions in infrastructural projects while its parastatals like Transnet and Eskom are also playing their part in eradicating decades long of under-investments in infrastructure like underground pipelines, new power stations and rail road, amongst many others. These are projects that will be on-going, at the very least for the next 50 years and they will have a huge bearing on job creation, increased economic activities which results in an increased growth rate. So when my friends ask me, 'why Maritzburg', I tell them this is where it is happening. The city specifically and this district generally has so much going for it. It is a developing district and that is where you need to be if you are an entrepreneur. When journalists asked entrepreneur, multimillionaire basketball team owner and former basketball star how he makes his millions during his playing days, he said “I make sure I am part of the action”. That really captured it for me and up and coming entrepreneurs do not just need to have great ideas and passion but they also need to be at the right place at the right time. I figured wherever lots of development is taking place is the place to be. One of the reasons MTN is a top 5 company in Africa is because it did not go for developed first world economies but it went for the untapped 3rd world developing countries in Africa and the Middle East. Why do you think the South African Breweries continues to increase beer volumes year in and year out? It's because they have been buying breweries in places like Brazil and countries in the Balkans like the Czech Republic. I have heard through the grape vine that they are going for the Kenyan market as well. The point is that there are plenty of opportunities in developing markets and regions and the same applies to uMgungundlovu district while growth is directly proportional to these opportunities. With this district being largely rural, why not take amenities, products and services to the people as opposed to moving thousands of people to city centres? The infrastructure development taking place, this will effectively create mini-economies out of modern day rural areas. The Growth & Development Summit hosted recently by the uMgungundlovu District Municipality is a step in the right direction as it will go a long way in channelling this district in the right direction. The summit was especially relevant as it was not isolated but it looked at issues in relation to other districts and provinces as well. So, in a nutshell, if you want to make it as an entrepreneur, it's not enough that you need to be at the tight place as the tight time but you also need to be part of the action – which is all in this district.