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Infrastructure investment key to future of Cape Town, highlights city’s mayor

Cape Town mayor Geordin Hill-Lewis

Cape Town mayor Geordin Hill-Lewis

27th October 2023

By: Rebecca Campbell

Creamer Media Senior Deputy Editor

     

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City of Cape Town Executive Mayor Geordin Hill-Lewis has re-emphasised his belief in the importance of infrastructure investment to stimulate economic growth, and the importance of economic growth to create jobs and so fight poverty. “I’m a keen believer in the power of infrastructure-led growth.” He was addressing a function hosted by the Bigen Group, an African infrastructure development company, in the Camps Bay area of the city, on Thursday evening.

“We cannot have the levels of poverty and unemployment we have in our country,” he highlighted. “We are obsessed with bringing people out of poverty.”

Although the economy of the Western Cape province – and Cape Town was responsible for 70% of the provincial economy – consistently grew faster than the rest of the country, it had not yet achieved the needed “break-out” growth of 4% to 6% a year. Achieving that, and maintaining it for many years, was the mission for both the city and the province.

The two levels of government had an “incredibly productive relationship,” he reported. “We’re daily in communication with each other. I call it – two governments, one central idea.”

Regarding Cape Town itself, his administration had adopted the catchphrase “building the city of hope”. But, while catchphrases were nice, they had to be made concrete, and that was what his administration was seeking to do.

“There is much excellence in the country,” he pointed out. “There is so much excellence in the private sector. But when did we last see excellence in the public sector?”

However, excellence in the public sector, his administration believed, was achievable. Cape Town had many challenges, indeed difficult challenges. “We are going to try and do something about it,” he assured. “We are trying to raise our level of ambition in Cape Town.”

This was not only because of the challenges that the city currently faced, but also because these challenges were growing. Two years late, the city had finally received the 2021 census data. This showed that the Western Cape had gone from being the fifth most populous province to being the third most populous.

Cape Town had gone from being the third most populous city to being the second. But, as its population had been only 100 000 less than that of first placed Johannesburg, and as the census had shown that Johannesburg was suffering from depopulation, Cape Town was on course to soon become the country’s most populous city. It was gaining, the city’s own data showed, an average of 2 000 to 2 500 new ratepayers a month, and would soon reach, if it had not already reached, a population of five-million. Over the past eight years, the equivalent of the population of the city of Bloemfontein had moved to Cape Town, and the population of the latter could reach six-million, seven-million, even eight-million, over the next 15 to 20 years.

The city had been investing in infrastructure, but not enough to keep up with its population growth, he noted. And other cities in the country had shown the dire consequences of failing to invest in infrastructure. “We’ll never ever let that happen here.” But the city had to stay ahead of its population growth.

So, Cape Town would spend R120-billion on infrastructure over the ten-year period which started last year. Over the next three years, R47-billion would be invested, by the city, in infrastructure – this money had already been budgeted, and represented 50% of all public investment in all South African metropolitan cities.

The city was working hard to protect its planned infrastructure spending from the consequences of the country’s national public finances crisis. Hill-Lewis’ administration was benefitting from 15 years of very good financial management by its predecessors. Indeed, the city actually had a slight surplus.

But the figure of R120-billion was really the bare minimum, he affirmed. The city could easily spend twice that amount and still have things left to do.

There were four priorities for this investment. The number one priority was water and sanitation. The city never wanted to be caught out by severe drought again, as it had been only a few years ago. And various areas had sanitation issues, issues which would only increase, with the growing population.

The second priority was to continue breaking down the geospatial legacy of apartheid, to make better connections between where people lived and where they worked. The MyCiTi integrated rapid transit bus network was being expanded. And the city was continuing its efforts to take over the Cape Metrorail network, from the national State-owned Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa.

Energy was another priority area for investment. The country was afflicted by scheduled rotating power cuts, called loadshedding, imposed by the national State-owned electricity utility Eskom, owing to lack of generating capacity; Cape Town was no exception. “We’ll be the first major city, I’m confident, the first major city to say goodbye to loadshedding,” he said, pointing out that 85% of all green energy investments in South Africa were taking place in Cape Town.

The final priority area was investment in public security. This took the form of both strengthening law enforcement capabilities and seeking to stimulate the development of small, medium-sized and microenterprises, to create constructive alternatives to crime, for people.

He stated that his administration was trying to avoid being trapped in a cycle of crisis response, despite there being many crises. They aimed to keep their eyes on the future and prepare and develop the city for that future, and set an example for the country.  

Edited by Creamer Media Reporter

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