Shifting the Narrative: A Call for Future-Ready Governance
28 Mar, 2024

Cape Town Mayor, Geordin Hill-Lewis

 

 

South Africa is now well into the lead-up to the 2024 national election and the political atmosphere is charged with anticipation. This year marks the country’s seventh election since the dawn of democracy, but several factors already indicate that this electoral event will be one for the books. A surging mass of young voters, a lineup of first-time independent candidates and subdued hints of a ruling party losing its grip suggest that this election may very well be an inflection point in South Africa’s political history. For Cape Town Mayor, Geordin Hill-Lewis, these are exciting times.

 

Hill-Lewis was the most recent guest on the Think Big webinar series, sponsored by PSG and hosted by award-winning journalist, Alishia Seckham. The interview called on Hill-Lewis to share his experience of ‘governing in an election year,’ touching on the most pressing challenges being faced on a municipal level and how to endure despite these constraints.

 

Key to maintaining the level of endurance needed to turn things around, according to Hill-Lewis, is laser-focus on the task at hand and to circumvent the “political cycle of short-termism which is a curse to governance. As civil leaders, we agreed on a strategy and remain dedicated to the relentless pursuit of that strategy, without distraction. This is an election year, and the political temperature is on the rise, but we accept that as a part of the democratic function and get on with the job.”

 

For the body of civil servants and key decision-makers in provincial government, that singular point of focus is infrastructure. The failing of public road infrastructure as well as the breakdown of the country’s national rail and port transportation systems have intensified long-standing socioeconomic issues. Loadshedding, and more recently, the impending water crisis in Gauteng have stacked the odds even further against economic recovery.

 

The solution, in Hill-Lewis’s opinion, lies in building national resilience. The foremost priority of the state should be investing in the right kind of infrastructure to support and uphold the livelihoods, movements and subsistence of this growing population.

 

Now is therefore not the time to skimp on infrastructure spend. As Hill-Lewis asserts: “every Rand spent on something else is a Rand not being invested in the basic building blocks of what makes cities work – the roads, the underground infrastructure, the power grid, the water supply system. These should be the main priorities.”

 

At the very least then, Hill-Lewis advocates for a ‘budget rule’ – as has been coached by provincial government – that infrastructure budget will grow by at least population growth plus inflation, year on year. Provincial budgets are trained on the aim of building resilient infrastructure, particularly in underserved communities that are the most adversely affected by poverty and crime.

 

A recent example of this policy in action is the R2 billion upgrade of the Zandvliet Waste Water Treatment Works. This project will serve the needs of some of Cape Town’s poorest and fastest-growing communities in Delft, Khayelitsha, Mfuleni and Blue Downs. Likewise, the R10 billion expansion of the MyCiTi bus system to largely populated regions including Mitchells Plain, Nyanga and Crossroads is well underway.

 

Currently, 75 Cents of every Rand spent by provincial government goes towards building and establishing new services and infrastructure in the city’s poorer communities. These, as Hill-Lewis believes, are the seeds that will produce green shoots of hope and optimism, which will in turn foster an environment that is conducive to good business and attract the investor confidence needed to make a breakthrough.

 

This determined and consistent move towards social and economic development on one end, is met with a ruthless intolerance for corruption and crime on the other. The formation of what has been referred to in the media as Cape Town’s ‘construction mafia’ made headlines earlier this year, with organised criminals reportedly strongarming local construction companies and contractors into extortionist deals.

 

Criminal elements such as these have undermined attempts by the province to complete essential housing projects throughout the city as well as several public transport projects. In communities such as Delft and Mitchells Plain, where adequate housing contributes to exacerbating the living conditions of millions of South Africans, these kinds of disruptions present very tangible challenges with very real consequences.

 

However, “we will never, ever do business with organised criminals and we will root out corruption with that same ruthless determination,” says Hill-Lewis.

 

Hill-Lewis’s call to action is clear: it’s time to shift the narrative, to focus not just on how government is working but how it could and should work for the collective good. It’s a call to all South Africans to join in this endeavour, to contribute their ideas, their energy, and their passion towards building a better future.

 

Watch on YouTube financial journalist Alishia Seckam interviewing eordin-Hill Lewis discussing the challenges that municipalities face, including the delivery of basic services and how to ensure continued progress despite constraints.

 

ENDS

 

 

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@Geordin Hill-Lewis
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