It is hard to believe I have been living and working in Durban for over one month now. The city has a contagiously optimistic vibe, which is definitely influenced by the long stretch of beachfront the city rests upon and the subtropical climate. There are currently 6 interns here, three have been here almost six months already and the other two interns arrived in the weeks following myself, and we have all been eagerly exploring the city together. Having the more experienced interns show us the ropes and help us settle into our new home has made it a smooth transition to life in Durban.
Shortly after I arrived I began work an Engagement Strategy Coordinator placed in the Economic Development and Investment Promotion Unit (EDIPU) of the eThekwini Municipality. eThekwini is the Zulu name for Durban, the largest metroplitan area in the province of KwaZulu-Natal, and third largest in the country. I work under a program manager, and mentor, to provide sector support and partnership, specifically for agribusiness and waste recovery. Within the unit I work alongside Bhavina Patel, another Canadian intern, and Nduduzo Mthiyane, a local intern from KwaZulu-Natal under the same program manager. In our office, we work alongside five other local interns and their respective program managers who support a wide range of sectors promoting economic development.
As a person passionate about sustainable community development my position at the EDIPU should be highly rewarding. The work I’ll do over the six months here will address a huge development issue in South Africa, and arguably the most critical challenge facing the country; unemployment. Unemployment across the country is at a staggering 26%, with the majority being youth unemployment. The EDIPU is mandated to create jobs within the municipal region. The unit follows an Economic Development and Job Creation Strategy which addresses unemployment, poverty, and inequality. The strategy is based on a long-term approach, but within an implementable time-scale of 5 years and will feed into the Integrated Development Plan of the Municipality.
My first week at work I was tasked with a number of readings to get me caught up to speed in my new work environment. These readings included the Municipality’s Integrated Development Plan, the Provincial Growth and Development Plan, and the National Development Plan. It was a heavy first week of readings, but has certainly helped my understanding of the structure of the government from a local to national level and their initiatives and goals. From there I moved on to reading the business plans for the programs supported by the EDIPU, where the majority of my workload will be over the next five months. These programs are Use-It, a waste beneficiation and materials recovery organization; the Edamame Development Programme, a pilot study to improve food security and economic opportunities for local farms; and the LIV Moringa, an agricultural project that contributes to the sustainability of LIV Village which provides holistic residential care for orphaned and vulnerable children. All the programs are not-for-profit, aim to create jobs for the local community, and support the green economy.
While I’ve slowly started to become more involved with the projects with my program manager, over the last month I have been kept busy with the final stages of planning a seminar hosted by the eThekwini Municipality and is called the “Greener, Livable City Seminar”. The event will be later this week, and I’m excited to see a large part of the work I’ve been apart of so far come to fruitition. All the other interns will be apart of the seminar with their respective departments as well. The seminar will be held at the popular Moses Mabhida Stadium and it aims to promote and showcase initiatives which support a green, circular economy and how we can encourage collaboration.
Even though I have only been here in Durban a short time, the exposure I have had to working in a municipal environment has been huge. I have already attended a number of seminars, conferences, and forums that my program manager brings myself and her two other interns to. A reoccuring topic of discussion at many of these events is that within the municipality there is a great need for departmental collaboration. Too many departments work as separate entites focusing purely on their own mandates instead of helping eachother collectively achieve their goals. However, I am excited to be a part of a seminar which aims to address this challenge as it is not an exclusive challenge to South African government, it can be found in governments all around the world.
The session will target participants from the eThekwini Municipality, representatives from the provincial government, NGOs, academia, business and private sectors in the fields of green economy. Speakers have been invited from the Energy Office, Environmental Planning, Durban Solid Waste, Water and Sanitation, Imagine Durban, and Use-It. Representative speakers1 will discuss initiatives being championed by their respective departments/organizations. The seminar also aims to be a knowledge sharing platform, and to provoke action from other critical departments.
If the past month is any indication for how the next 5 months will be in Durban, then I am filled with anticipation and excitement for the relationship I will build with my mentor, everything I will learn at the EDIPU, and how I will grow as a person.