Grahamstown Residents’ Association is raising its game to promote the City of Grahamstown towards its true potential.
We are planning a radical revision of the GRA modus operandi with the aim of developing Grahamstown and the surrounding areas of the Makana Municipality to their potential. There is no magic wand or quick fix, but we can make a difference. Active citizenry is advancing globally as more and more people realise that they can move beyond mere dissatisfaction with government to active engagement in the building of their communities and the strengthening of service provision.
Our municipality is in particular difficulty, and is struggling with high debt and a shortage of skilled staff in key areas, which is linked to ineffective use of our limited municipal resources. The problems in our municipality are compounded by the increasing disengagement by residents who have lost faith in their local government – evidence of such disengagement can be found in non-payment of rates by a significant minority of residents and lack of respect for public areas that is expressed through activities such as illegal dumping and vandalism.
GRA has run for years solely on the goodwill of volunteers. This approach has proven insufficient for our purposes, as we need to be able to spend time on communicating effectively, engaging with the municipality, holding municipal officials and each other to account, mobilising people for joint action, building cooperation and cohesiveness, and countering apathy and lack of follow-through.
To change the outcomes we have to change our game
GRA has formulated a new strategy. The first component of that strategy is to become a mass membership organisation, with a low joining fee so that all parts of town can join and participate in our work. In the first 4 months, GRA has boosted membership from fewer than 50 to over 400 members. We plan to grow our membership to 1000, then 2000, and then to 4000 members by 2018. Everyone wants and needs good and reliable services, which is why people are already joining us from all quarters.
The second component of our strategy is to secure a monthly income that is high enough to run a staffed office that can serve as a point of reference and contact centre, and through which secretarial support can be provided. To make this game-changing move, GRA needs 200 forward-thinking people who are prepared to make a standing order in the range R100–R300 monthly. If we receive, on average, R150 per month from 200 people, we would receive the R30,000 per month that we need to run a staffed GRA office. We are asking for 200 committed residents to offer this voluntary support for purely altruistic reasons, with no expectation of any special treatment or differential rights within the GRA.
This is a very tangible way in which residents who are better off can contribute to the creation of an organisation that will serve all residents, thereby contributing to the creation of a more cohesive Grahamstown community.
Residents will be empowered
With GRA firmly on the map and in the consciousness of the wider public, many things become possible. These include more regular engagement with the Makana Municipality to support the strengthening of its service delivery functions, active monitoring of commitments made to residents, more consistent liaison with residents and follow-up on their concerns, and better exchange of information to strengthen citizen participation in local government and responses to the concerns of Grahamstown’s residents. We will also be more likely to be able to work more proactively to support the finding of constructive solutions to our local problems, to build on our collective strengths, and draw on the depth of skills and experience available in our community.
GRA aims to set an example of good communication, including regular functions and roadshows to engage people. Timely and informative communication is essential to transparency and accountability, and we want to facilitate improvement in the ways in which residents and the municipality communicate. We want to do this in a non-partisan way, and commit to GRA remaining independent of all political parties and promoting transparency and constructive engagement.
GRA also aims to promote civic pride and self-help amongst residents. There is no shortage of intelligent, skilled and resourceful people in Grahamstown, and we aim to work with all individuals and organisations to unlock that potential in the interests of our community.
Five years from now, you, as someone who has helped GRA to rise to the challenge, will see that you have changed this city for the better. Not only will we have a better functioning municipality, a more cohesive community, and more engaged residents; you will also see positive impacts on property prices and more willingness of skilled and creative people to settle and remain here.
With only 200 people, we can get this process started….