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Resources, City Spotlights eThekwini (Durban)

City Spotlight: eThekwini (Durban) Metropolitan Municipality, South Africa

eThekwini Municipality – formerly Durban – is located on the east coast of South Africa in the Province of KwaZulu-Natal (KZN) and is the third largest metropolitan municipality in the country, following Johannesburg and Cape Town. It was formally established in December 2000 through the amalgamation of over 40 local authorities and now boasts a population of 3.9 million, of which around two thirds are young people under the age of 35, most of whom are under 15.

eThekwini Municipality’s engagement with Strong Cities has included participation in a regional workshop hosted by the East and Southern Africa (ESA) Regional Hub in Johannesburg (South Africa) in June 2023 and the Strong Cities’ Fourth Global Summit in New York City in September 2023.

What is the local government concerned about?

Like any major urban centre, eThekwini is confronted by a wide range of challenges, in particular gender-based violence, discrimination and xenophobia, with conflict between foreign nationals and local residents posing a significant challenge. At the same time, eThekwini is dealing with the impacts of climate change, such as destructive flooding that has caused damage to infrastructure and internal and regional displacement of residents. This, as well as rising unemployment rates, poverty, homelessness and high levels of inequality, as well as the legacy of apartheid spatial planning, which continues to present obstacles to social integration, all contribute to feelings of insecurity and an erosion in social cohesion.

How is the local government responding?

Participatory Action Planning

eThekwini recognises that core local government functions such as housing, infrastructure and employment – if delivered efficiently – can build resilience against hate, extremism and polarisation by helping all residents feel they are provided for and can rely on the local government to meet their needs. As such, its approach to addressing racism, xenophobia, polarisation and related issues forms part of a broader focus on social cohesion that is integrated into its overarching, statutory five-year Integrated Development Plan (IDP) (2023/24 – 2027/28).

Social cohesion is a key priority of eThekwini’s IDP, as outlined in the IDP’s vision statement: “by 2030, eThekwini will enjoy the reputation of being Africa’s most caring and liveable city, where all citizens live in harmony”. Further, two of the eight sub-plans that make up the IDP focus explicitly on social cohesion and local democracy, with the objective of sub-plan six “to create a city where people interact creatively to stimulate economic growth, social cohesion and unity in diversity” and of sub-plan seven to “ensure a strong, caring and democratic institution to promote and support a consultative and participatory local government”.

Importantly, the IDP was developed in close consultation with residents to ensure it responds to the actual needs of eThekwini’s diverse communities. To this end, the Municipality hosted several public consultations to understand residents’ perspectives of what the Municipality has done well and what it can improve upon and should prioritise in the next five years. This includes through community-based planning: “an approach to participatory planning that is designed to promote and advance community action”, whereby the Municipality held consultations per ward to enable the development of a “credible IDP” informed by hyper-local needs.

Community Engagement, Transparency and Trust-Building

The Municipality invests heavily in community engagement and public participation beyond community-based planning to inform the IDP. It does so recognising that this can build trust between residents and the local government, which can serve as a protective factor against hate, extremism and polarisation. eThekwini’s additional community engagement efforts include:

Together, these platforms provide residents with multiple opportunities to voice their opinions, contribute to decision-making and shape the direction of local governance.

[1] Imbizo is the Zulu word for ‘a gathering’ that is usually called by a traditional leader

Multi-Actor Collaboration

The Municipality additionally manages platforms through which it coordinates and partners with community-based actors. This includes Operation Sukuma Sakhe, founded “on the premise of taking government to the people in a coordinated manner”. This is achieved through the establishment of “integrated delivery structures’ referred to as ‘war rooms’, which comprise city officials, community-based organisations and the private sector. These actors are convened on a regular basis to discuss and coordinate a multi-actor response to emerging problems within their respective ward, whether related to public service delivery, security and safety, social cohesion or otherwise.


eThekwini has invested in various partnerships to address threats to social cohesion and community safety more broadly. This includes:

Awareness-Raising and Targeted Programmes to Strengthen Social Cohesion

Besides robust community engagement mechanisms, multi-actor collaboration and partnerships to strengthen core governance functions and address social polarisation, the Municipality has several targeted initiatives in place to tackle gender-based violence, racism and xenophobia and to support victims and relevant practitioners. For example, the Municipality offers legal assistance and counselling to survivors of gender-based violence and trains law enforcement and social workers on how to work with victims sensitively and constructively.

Further, the Municipality encourages councillors and leaders to publicly denounce xenophobic, racist and sexist attitudes. In 2021, at a Youth Summit, Mayor Kaunda urged residents to help the Municipality address gender-based violence by urging parents, educators and others to regularly condemn all forms of violence. Moreover, following a series of attacks against foreign nationals in 2021, the Mayor requested municipal officials to fast track the delivery of a Social Cohesion Summit to identify root causes of xenophobic violence, noting that “the city belongs to all who live in it”.

To tackle xenophobia and enhance social cohesion more broadly, the Municipality’s Parks, Recreation and Culture Unit partners with community-based organisations and cultural institutions to foster inter-communal interactions and dialogue. As a result of these partnerships, art centres have been established throughout the city “to produce local entertainment for communities to experience, be inspired and embrace the diverse cultures that exist in eThekwini”. Additionally, the Municipality has invested in local history museums, of which it currently funds 19 across the city, to remind residents of the (social) challenges that have been overcome during and since apartheid, noting that museums can “provide a sense of community and place by celebrating a collective heritage”.

Further, with eThekwini being home to approximately 200,000 refugees and asylum seekers, the Municipality has made a global pledge to protect and integrate its substantial refugee population, partnering with local foreign national community leaders and multilateral institutions to develop awareness and integration programmes for immigrants. This includes through hosting special cultural days for local refugee communities, providing them with a platform to share their stories and perspectives, the purpose of which is not only to empower this historically marginalised demographic, but also to humanise their experience and thus tackle anti-refugee conspiracies and sentiment. In 2018, city officials also took part in a project by the Democracy Development Programme, Africa Solidarity Network and Urban Futures Centre at Durban University of Technology to inform a city-led, gender-informed approach to migrant inclusion. This was done through dialogues between migrants, civil society actors and the local government and the collection of stories and insights from women migrants to capture and share their experiences with city officials.

Urban Planning and Design

One of the IDP’s priorities over its five-year implementation period is to address apartheid legacy spatial planning, which caused “imbalanced and fragmented [urban] development” in line with apartheid segregation policies, leaving black-majority areas (e.g., township areas) under-served and under-resourced. The legacy of this today is seen primarily in lack of access to essential services and means of transport (e.g., to the city centre) amongst former township areas, which leaves residents isolated from the socioeconomic life of the city and makes it difficult for them to access employment. Recognising these ongoing implications of apartheid policies, the IDP notes the importance of a more strategic approach to spatial planning, where communities are consulted to facilitate “inclusive development [that] leads to greater spatial integration”. Moreover, to ensure a gendered approach to such spatial planning, the Municipality has partnered with Safetipin, a social organisation that supports cities with enhancing women’s safety through gender-informed urban planning and design.

Enhancing Local Capacities

High unemployment, poverty and low economic growth were exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, enhancing insecurities and inter-communal tensions, particularly between foreign nationals and long-term residents. To address these socioeconomic challenges, the Municipality has placed a strong emphasis on human capital learning and development, launching capacity-building programmes designed to create a robust and inclusive local economy. This includes through:

What’s next?

eThekwini Municipality will continue to pursue the priorities of its IDP, including to eradicate corruption and ensure clean and efficient governance. The local government also strives to pioneer and design new paths for inclusion and ethical leadership, and actively develop and support partnerships for the inclusion and participation of youth, women and the LGBTIQ community. Other priorities include innovation for inclusive growth and the promotion of a ‘city identity’ that is underpinned by hope and ubuntu[2].

Looking ahead, eThekwini Municipality will actively participate in and support local, regional and international projects and programmes that aim to eradicate racism, extremism, hate crimes and all forms of discrimination. The city plans to bolster partnerships and support programmes with civil society, business leaders (both big and small), international partners, faith-based leaders and traditional leaders to foster social cohesion and inclusive economic growth.

The local government is committed to ensuring that all local policies, programmes and partnerships with international partners strengthen the city’s resilience and climate change adaptation and mitigation plans. It seeks to ensure that all citizens and communities are part of programmes to tackle climate change and address its social implications, as well as other issues like poverty, unemployment and social exclusion.

[2] The word Ubuntu comes from Zulu and can roughly be translated as ‘humanity to others’.

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