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Making Joburg an entry point into Africa Print E-mail
11 April 2007

The External Relations Unit establishes and maintains relationships internationally, nationally, provincially and locally. It sets up twinning agreements and even takes care of protocol.


Lorraine Wilkinson
Lorraine Wilkinson, putting Joburg on the global stage
(Photo: Enoch Lehung, City of Johannesburg)

"JOHANNESBURG is considered to be a world-class, global city."

So says the director of the City's External Relations Unit (ERU), Lorraine Wilkinson. With this comes certain responsibilities - and expectations from the local and international community. And the ERU is responsible for forging and maintaining Joburg's relationships and partnerships locally, provincially, nationally and internationally.

With 12 years of experience in foreign affairs, Wilkinson hopes to draw on – and build - her knowledge. "My interest has always been international, my strength has always been Africa," she says. She first worked as a foreign affairs cadet in Holland, followed by an assignment as a first secretary at the South African embassy in Washington DC, in the United States of America.

The ERU was established just five years ago, and it plays an important role in achieving the mayoral priorities of making Johannesburg "a world-class African city". Placed in the Office of the Executive Mayor and reporting directly to the City manager, the unit is the champion of the City's external relations.

Its advocates are the executive mayor, City manager, chief Whip, Speaker and members of the mayoral committee.

"We give support to the city's political principals," Wilkinson says, explaining that this entails strategic support to enable City management to carry out its mandate of co-operative governance, as well as to engage with other governments on a local and international level.

Consisting of three core divisions – international, intergovernmental and protocol – the unit is responsible for establishing and maintaining relationships outside the City. The protocol division ensures that the correct code of behaviour is followed at all times during international interactions.

International relations

International co-operation takes place on three levels, either through twinning agreements, in which partner cities sign "memoranda of understanding", or through co-operation on specifically identified projects. Finally, some co-operation takes place through information-sharing initiatives.
The ERU has five formal and four informal international partnerships in place. These include a land and housing development project with Addis Ababa, in Ethiopia; five service-related projects with Windhoek, in Namibia – safety, water and sanitation, geographic information, planning and councillor training; and an ongoing libraries exchange project with Birmingham, in England.

"We are hoping that London will assist the City of Johannesburg with an integrated ticketing system for the Bus Rapid Transport [BRT] system in preparation for 2010 [Fifa Soccer World Cup], as it is preparing for the 2012 Olympics," Wilkinson says.

However, she stresses, "Our focus is on Africa." This is immediately clear from the full contingent of African flags displayed in the ERU reception.

But the international relations division is by no means only focused on the continent, Wilkinson points out. "Our mandate is also to establish and maintain sister city and project co-operation arrangements with select foreign cities throughout the world."

Twinning agreements

City-to-city arrangements are already in place with five sister cities – Addis Ababa; Windhoek; Birmingham; London, in the United Kingdom; and New York, in the United States. Described by Wilkinson as "twin cities of Johannesburg", these arrangements are focussed on creating co-operative relationships "for the mutual benefit of the contracting parties and the communities they represent".

The co-operative agreements can be as far-reaching as looking at best practice municipal models aimed at improving service delivery, to projects related to youth activities and interests. In 2005, 12 children from disadvantaged areas of Johannesburg took part in a youth-exchange programme between Johannesburg and Birmingham, the second biggest city in the United Kingdom.

"The children had the opportunity to travel abroad and share their unique experiences with their peers, thereby broadening their horizons and giving them different ways of engagement," Wilkinson explains.

"The twin city agreements are people-focussed projects, removed from politics to people-based needs."

Other city partnerships that are being developed are with Matola, in Mozambique; Accra, in Ghana; Val de Marne, in France; and Kinshasa, in Democratic Republic of Congo. "The mayor has also expressed the wish to formalise relationships with Lusaka [in Zambia] and one city [each] in India and China."

Bilateral to multilateral

The international division also has a number of activities in the multilateral sphere, Wilkinson says.
These include contributing to the objectives of the New Partnership for Africa's Development (Nepad) at local government level and promoting an African Agenda through partnerships and activities with select multilateral organisations on national and international level.

The African Union; the International Council for Local Environmental Initiatives, a global local government network that focuses on sustainable development; and the Pan African Parliament, which provides a common platform for African peoples and their grassroots organisations, are some of these multilateral partnerships.

They help Johannesburg to become "a city supporting sustainable urban socio-economic development and good governance on the African continent".

To this effect the City has its own Municipal International Relations Policy, approved by the council in 2001, to guide all international associations and activities.

Intergovernmental relations

However, the ERU is concerned with more than just high-level international relationships. Its intergovernmental relations division is responsible for people-centred activities closer to home.
Its mandate is to establish, facilitate and manage partnerships with local, national, provincial and strategic role players to ensure a common approach and partnering of cross-sphere programmes.

From MPCCs to helpdesks

Establishing three multi-purpose community centres (MPCCs) is one such project. "This is done in conjunction with the provincial and national governments and, besides offering typical people centre services, they also provide social development assistance, home affairs, housing and health services," Wilkinson confirms. "It is about giving the public a better service."

The MPCCs are in Ivory Park, Alexandra and Eldorado Park.

In addition, a pilot project has been initiated with the national and provincial governments to create the first MPCC in a mall but, Wilkinson cautions, this project is still "very much in its infancy". As second generation MPCCs, these centres will be unmanned, computer-oriented units. Revenue and Customer Relations Management forms a major part of the service.

The Migrant Helpdesk, to be opened soon, is a project initiated by Executive Mayor Amos Masondo to help migrants to integrate fully into the city's social fabric. It is a community development project in partnership with the intergovernmental relations division.

"They [migrants] are here, whether legal or not. They get sick; they need schools. The City therefore must find a way of providing services and come up with a plan."

And Wilkinson is clear that there are services the City can offer to these people to show that "Johannesburg is not aloof". Access to healthcare, schooling and accommodation are some of their basic needs.

Twinning with rural municipalities

As part of building capacity, the mayor has spoken about the need to create twinning agreements with three rural local municipalities within this mayoral term, Wilkinson explains.

"We always twin outside the country's borders, but what about our own local municipalities?"

The City is working closely with the South African Local Government Association, which is helping to identify some rural municipalities. Discussions have started with local municipalities in Greater Sekhukhune Municipal District in Eastern Cape province; others to follow are Greater Taung in Northwest province, Nkangala in Mpumalanga, Nketoana in Free State and OR Tambo in Eastern Cape.

The rural twinning partnerships will look at the strengths and weaknesses of local municipalities, "where they are and where we can assist", and at identifying areas of co-operation. "It will also raise the profile of smaller municipalities."


Johannesburg is in a unique position of hosting a Consular Core, consisting of 26 member countries from five different regions in the world. This has led the External Relations Unit to set up a protocol division.

Established in 2006, the division is concerned with putting in place a universal protocol standard, consistent with international protocol practices and standards, for all City of Johannesburg departments and entities, as sanctioned by the mayoral committee.

In addition, the division is responsible for giving strategic support to the executive mayor, all members of the mayoral committee and the Office of the Speaker on visits to and by foreign officials, as well as during mayoral roadshows.

As part of an international outreach programme, the executive mayor has met all members of the Consular Core to introduce Johannesburg to them. "He gave his commitment that Johannesburg was here to assist in creating an enabling environment for them to do their work," Wilkinson confirms. "This year he also wants to meet all African ambassadors and consul-generals and, thereafter, representatives from the rest of the world."

More than dealing with behaviour, the protocol division is about building strategic partnerships and engagements. That means working with the diplomatic community to establish strategic engagements for the executive mayor, members of the mayoral committee and the City manager.

"Sifting out and strengthening relationships already in place, but not to the exclusion of others", sums up the central focus of the External Relations Unit.


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Last Updated on 13 February 2013