Defend Truth


Hope Springs – Cape Town is choosing progress and South Africa can too

Hope Springs – Cape Town is choosing progress and South Africa can too
Cape Town mayor Geordin Hill-Lewis in Philippi East. (Photo: VelanI Ludidi)

I hope that governments in the rest of the country (and the national government especially) will join us in placing growth and progress at the forefront of their agendas, and abandon failed ideas that have been shown to lead only to poverty and chaos.

It is easy to feel hopeless as a South African.

When we entered office just one year ago, Cape Town’s mayoral committee and I knew that we were taking on a profound responsibility of historical proportions. We were faced with an energy crisis, high unemployment, out-of-control crime and a range of other problems brought on by the failure of the South African state. It was our calling, we felt, to show that problems can be solved and that South Africa can work.

This is what we have set out to do in Cape Town: to manage our city efficiently and effectively such that those who live here can be hopeful about the future. Cape Town can and must work. Capetonians can and must feel like there are opportunities here for them to succeed and prosper.

I realise this sounds like something easy to put on paper but difficult to achieve in reality. Reflecting on one year in office, however, has brought about some realisations that make me feel more optimistic than ever.

While South Africa’s problems are numerous, big and seemingly intractable, most of them have easy solutions. For the most part, they are caused by deliberate policy choices rather than circumstances outside of the state’s control. While frustrating, this makes the solutions more obvious.

Take the energy crisis, for example. Eskom was named the best power utility in the world at the Financial Times’ Global Energy Awards in New York in 2001. Three policy design choices were made thereafter, which have led to Eskom’s decline into chaos and ineffectiveness in just 20 years.

First is the underinvestment in new infrastructure, which has left the country reliant on an ageing coal-fired generation fleet, large sections of which are reaching end-of-life. Second, procurement policies overvalue irrelevant considerations (like race) and undervalue the effectiveness of contracts to actually deliver goods and services to the utility. Finally, for similar reasons, Eskom is facing a dire skills shortage which has drastically diminished its capacity to maintain its infrastructure.

This is, of course, on top of the endemic corruption that has exacerbated each of these problems. Again, it was a choice to allow corruption to develop and flourish unchecked.

In Cape Town, we have chosen to do things differently. Keeping with the theme of energy, we have chosen to start becoming independent of Eskom. We are at an advanced stage of procuring 300MW from independent power producers and have enabled businesses who produce excess energy with generation installations at their premises to sell all of this excess back to the City. Next year, we will procure even more generation capacity (as well as storage) through our dispatchable power tender.

We are on track to offer four or more stages’ worth of load shedding protection to residents by the end of our term in office. This extends the protection already offered by our Steenbras hydroelectric plant, which we have chosen to excellently maintain. Frustratingly, this timeframe could be shortened if the national government were to choose to exempt the City from onerous procurement procedures and other legislative requirements which serve only to prolong the process. I made the case for this exemption (along with a range of other simple interventions to solve the power crisis) in July.

It is not only on load shedding that Cape Town is making smarter decisions to solve national problems.

Faced with the reality of a failing South African Police Service due to ongoing mismanagement at a national level, we budgeted a record R5.4-billion this year to make our city safer. We have deployed 1,200 new Law Enforcement officers to crime hotspots, who have already made 8,500 arrests and helped to bring murder rates down. We have also deployed 100 more officers to the CBD to address increasing crime in this economically crucial area.

We have chosen to advocate for the devolution of more crime-fighting power to our excellent local policing services so that we can support the many hard-working SAPS officers in Cape Town. If we are able to properly gather intelligence, investigate and prepare cases for prosecution, crime will come down in Cape Town even more.

Tenants to owners

We know that affordable, equitable access to decent housing opportunities close to work and schools is a crucial ingredient for Cape Town’s social progress and economic success. Accordingly, the council has approved 1,130 social housing units since May and 800 units are actively under construction.

Because we believe no one should be a permanent tenant of the state, we have made the policy choice (which is unusual in South Africa) to make it as easy as possible for tenants to become owners of their council housing, without having to pay anything towards the transfer costs.

Another crucial ingredient of progress and economic growth is reliable and affordable public transport. Faced with the just about complete collapse of commuter rail in Cape Town due to Prasa’s incompetence, we have chosen to pursue the devolution of passenger trains to the City. This process is supported in the national Government’s new rail policy and is now well under way.

Visit Daily Maverick’s home page for more news, analysis and investigations

A pressing problem across the country is crumbling civil infrastructure due to chronic underinvestment and maintenance backlogs. We have chosen to significantly increase our infrastructure investment and to make sure we have the engineers and project managers to deliver these projects on time.

We are focusing our investment on where it really counts: infrastructure that improves the lives for residents, especially in poor communities, and infrastructure that helps grow the economy. Water and sewerage projects will be soaking up half the nearly R30-billion we plan to spend on infrastructure over the next three years. This will provide a more dignified life to those living in poverty and will support the further rapid growth of our city that is needed to get them out of poverty.

While we are incredibly proud of our progress, we know there is more to be done. Unemployment is the primary social issue facing our city, and drives almost every other problem. We must grow our economy meaningfully and faster over time and get more Capetonians into work.

Cape Town mayor Geordin Hill-Lewis

Cape Town mayor Geordin Hill-Lewis says the City is on track to offer four or more stages’ worth of protection from rolling blackouts. (Photo: Leila Dougan)

Over the next year we will be focusing our efforts on making Cape Town the best place to do business on the African continent. While excellent basic service delivery will be the biggest means to this end, we will also be working with businesses to figure out how we can make it easier for them to grow and employ more people.

Again, it is a choice to align a government’s agenda with what is needed for businesses to grow and succeed. For us, this choice is an obvious one.

I hope that governments in the rest of the country (and the national government especially) will join us in placing growth and progress at the forefront of their agendas, and abandon failed ideas that have been shown to lead only to poverty and chaos. Regardless of whether this happens, Cape Town will continue to choose to be a City of Hope for all who live here and show that South Africa really can work if we want it to. DM

Geordin Hill-Lewis is mayor of Cape Town. Hill-Lewis was a participant on a panel at Daily Maverick’s The Gathering and this essay is an extension of comments made then.


Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Alexander McLaren says:

    What an inspiring piece! I am a civil engineer who worked in Cape Town in the early 1970’s. It is vital that basic infrastructure, water, sewer and power are delivered to as many as possible. Hopefully this administration can continue to deliver, well done.

    • Jane Crankshaw says:

      I join you in hopeful congratulations to the Mayor and his team. It is already possible to see that great strides have been made.
      We still need to address the elephant in the room – that of the homeless who invade certain parts of the city, setting up camps on our pavements and in our parks. Whilst ratepayers have pity for these people, these Canó’s are not only unsightly but unhealthy ( for both the homeless and the ratepayer). Perhaps the time has come to deal with this problem in an humane and dignified way? Perhaps disused military bases could be reconfigured offering accommodation and a small salary in return for work in productive market gardens,workshops etc, together with training and education. This would probably cost the Cpt ratepayers more in rates in the short term but could become a blueprint for a National initiative paid for from our taxes ( if not stolen!) and neither the ANC and EFF could argue with this solution!

      • Jon Cruise says:

        This is a brilliant idea – it will need coordination with National Departments though, who typically don’t make it easier for good ideas to flourish.
        Maybe California and other rich areas of the 1st world (lots of public land in Paris, France filled with tents for example) will be able to learn from us.

        Bring on 2024 when we might have some party & ideologically unconstrained South Africans in meaningful positions within National Government!
        Home Affairs is already not recording ‘race’ of babies being born (although shamefully writing FOREIGN instead of ID numbers for African babies…), so there is hope that the stupid EE reporting that we need to submit at the moment will naturally have to end 10 or so years from now.
        Looking forward to our children inheriting a South Africa free from the shameful constraints of Apartheid, as well as the shameful constraints of the ANC’s (mis)rule.

        Viva South Africa!

      • Fanie Rajesh Ngabiso says:

        and neither the ANC and EFF could argue with this solution!

        😀 (apologies for the chuckle but rationality has no relevance to either of the parties mentioned, or whether they argue)

  • David Mark says:

    Amazing work from this local government, thank you and keep going!

  • Prof Bill Richards - retired Richards says:

    South Africa needs a Geordin Hill-Lewis as President – all that he has said is sound common sense to anyone with half a brain and with no racial bias! I wish him every success with his endeavours – as a family we left KZN for a brighter future in Cape Town – Prof Bill Richards (retired)

  • Fanie Rajesh Ngabiso says:

    Music to my ears. I do hope this message gets out to the people who most need to receive it.

  • barriesmith63 says:

    Wow!! Cyril, are you listening (awake, interested)?

  • Roy Haines says:

    Mr Mayor you are like a breath of spring air. It is so inspiring to read of your plans for our city. Well done and may you have further opportunity to succeed with your plans.

  • Erika Suter says:

    GHL has a way of making mole hills out of mountains in a calm, intelligent way. Strength to him and his many good teams!

  • Bruce Q says:

    I lend my voice to the choir of praise and congratulations being sung to and about our Cape Town mayor and his administration.
    This is the leadership South Africa needs.

  • Brad McWalter says:

    We are the Cape of Good Hope after all!

  • Lisbeth Scalabrini says:

    All very admirable, but playing the Devil’s advocate, Geordin Hill-Lewis is praising his own work. I know from trusted witnesses that things in Cape Town are on another level than elsewhere; I have even heard that there are no potholes😏, but it would be tranquilizing to hear the opinion of a neutral, knowledgeable inhabitant of the City… Is it all true? Please don’t hit me!

    • Fanie Rajesh Ngabiso says:

      A fair observation – may I suggest the comments above yours are the confirmation you seek. Two important takeaways: 1: from their content it appears these are coming in the main from local lived experience; and 2: there isn’t a single naysayer I can see (which believe me for the DM is VERY unusual).

      And if you still doubt – do come and experience it for yourself!

  • L Dennis says:

    The progressive servant leadership of the DA is the basic foundation of good DA policy.
    God bless the DA.

  • R S says:

    Well done mayor! Your work is one of the few rays of hope in this country.

Please peer review 3 community comments before your comment can be posted


This article is free to read.

Sign up for free or sign in to continue reading.

Unlike our competitors, we don’t force you to pay to read the news but we do need your email address to make your experience better.

Nearly there! Create a password to finish signing up with us:

Please enter your password or get a sign in link if you’ve forgotten

Open Sesame! Thanks for signing up.

We would like our readers to start paying for Daily Maverick...

…but we are not going to force you to. Over 10 million users come to us each month for the news. We have not put it behind a paywall because the truth should not be a luxury.

Instead we ask our readers who can afford to contribute, even a small amount each month, to do so.

If you appreciate it and want to see us keep going then please consider contributing whatever you can.

Support Daily Maverick→
Payment options

Daily Maverick Elections Toolbox

Download the Daily Maverick Elections Toolbox.

+ Your election day questions answered
+ What's different this election
+ Test yourself! Take the quiz