However, Makhanda’s “individuals with influence” will need to look beyond a similar initiative that imploded in 2017. The administrator who was parachuted in — and paid a cost-to-company amount of nearly R3m for nine months on a three-day work week — did not deploy the solutions proposed by academic, business and civil society representatives.
But it wasn’t just ineptitude that sank the project. “Levels of polarisation, distrust and mutual ignorance in people from both sides of the economic and social divides led to the death of the project,” says Peires.
He likens it to Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express: “Everyone conspired to murder the victim.”
Peires says the new entity will need to be nonpolitical but have the authority to work at the executive level of local government.
For his part, Gaybba is willing to reconvene the think-tank, but he cautions that others might be more wary.
Be that as it may, while the GRA has made slow inroads in its nonracial ethos, many members of the business community, in Gaybba’s view, have a “terrible” attitude.
“If all you do is sit and worry about the municipality and national government, then pack your bags and head for Perth,” he says. “When you come here to a town like Makhanda, you learn how to face the problems and find solutions. This is a brilliant testing ground for making it work and what happens here will happen in the rest of the country.”
Gaybba admits the city is on a precipice. His own estate agency has felt the pain, with pricier homes not selling. He thinks the only way for businesses to survive is to adopt ethical and sustainable approaches by, for example, investing in their communities — as Carara Agro Processing, Makana Brick and GBS Mutual Bank have done.
GBS chair Owen Skae says: “Because we’re not a transactional bank we cannot compete on interest rates. But for a small Eastern Cape bank, our assets of R1.5bn are still growing. This is because here we stick to old-fashioned customer-care principles, where a handshake seals a deal.”