An examination of business perspectives on the role of Umhlosinga Development Agency as an economic development agency.
Mthimkhulu, Sinethemba Nkosinokwazi.
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Local Economic Development Agencies (LEDAs) are fast becoming the norm in South Africa and other developing countries. LEDAs have proven in many states to bring great development and rehabilitation in post-war time; hence their popularity and adoption in so many countries. However, despite their popularity, LEDAs are still imprecisely understood. This study documents the Umhlosinga Development Agency in Umkhanyakude district, situated in Northern KwaZulu-Natal in South Africa. The main aim of the study is to examine the business perspectives on the functionality of the Umhlosinga Development Agency as a mechanism for economic development. To address this, research questions included the extent to which local business is aware of the agency’s role; and to explore the relationship and communication chain between the agency, its parent district municipality and the business community. The study adopted a qualitative, interpretative research design. The sample consisted of the Umhlosinga Development Agency managers, district municipal, local municipal LED units and Mjindi Farming members. A total of 11 interviews were conducted, which were then transcribed, and thematically analysed. The findings show that the relationship between the district, the agency and the business community is not at its best but is a work in progress currently. The agency is constantly in search of funding as this seems to be a big barrier in reaching their objectives. None the less the actual objectives of the agency are still to be realised as many of the projects are in developmental phases. The perspectives of the business community reveal that the agency is slowly beginning to be understood by some of the local municipalities, and this has helped the agency in that their projects receive support from local stakeholders. However, where the agency has not yet undertaken projects in a particular area, the officials’ lacked knowledge of the role of the agency. This showed that the agency has not been marketed enough; in fact even at the very introductory phase of the agency there was little awareness on the then potential work of the agency within the district municipality. The communication chains are minimal, transmitted only where it was compulsory. However no communication existed at all between the agency and the community at the lowest level, despite having some interactions with Mjindi Farmers as an intermediary organisation and being a customer to the Mjindi farmers. With regards to the Public-Private-Partnership between the three stakeholder groups of government, business and the community, there seems to be a consensus on what the broader role of the agency should be. However, in practice, the roles of the agency are relatively different than anticipated by partners, because they are directly impacted by available resources and infrastructure and relationships between the stakeholders. Local Development Agencies are fairly new and the product of their work takes between five to ten years to be discernible. Umhlosinga was established in 2008 and cannot be seen to be any different from other Development Agencies. The agency has had some successes in contributing to Local Economic Development; one therefore can still remain optimistic on the current projects needing implementation. This however can only be obtained if a LEDA such as the Umhlosinga Development Agency works more collaboratively with local stakeholders and there is a constructive understanding between all partners in development that can be converted into practical actions.
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