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Western Cape proof “South Africa is better together”

Interview - October 2, 2014

Premier Helen Zille speaks to United World about her challenges and dreams to deliver an inclusive and united society based on the idea of justice and freedom for all in the Western Cape.


Western Cape is a hugely important province, contributing up to 15% of GDP and playing a massive role in the tourism industry. How does your Development Plan for the Western Cape fit in to the National Development Plan? And how do you want to develop the province over the coming years?

There is a very good fit between the National Development Plan and our Development Plan. We call it the provincial strategic plan. There is a very close alignment between the national and provincial plans because we are basing ourselves on the same broad diagnostic of poverty and unemployment being the major problems, and we are looking at ways to intervene to deal with that. All of the things that are required to grow the economy, to improve education, to align skills with the demands of the economy and future demands of the economy, to ensure that we reduce red tape, to identify areas where we can be competitive and ensure that we create the environment to be competitive. In the Western Cape, those areas are Oil & Gas, Agriculture and Agro-processing, the IT industry and everything that flows from it in a world of applications which are coming out of the Western Cape thick and fast for every developing problem we can think of. In Financial Services, we are the continental leader. We are very much looking into Green Technologies and Green Energies, and in many of these projects we are at the forefront of the national rollout of the National Development Plan. For example, our broadband rollout is the leader in the country and service delivery is on the cutting edge.

In terms of your focus on addressing issues, within your province, a reoccurring problem is job creation. Unemployment overall in the country is high. You have had more success than most in creating jobs. How can you drive that further? What specific projects are you planning in these sectors?

I think you must look at the fact that the population of the Western Cape went up by over 40% in 15 years. That is an extraordinary demographic growth. It comes mainly from inward-migration, and primarily from the poverty-stricken Eastern Cape. The fact that you have brought unemployment down in those circumstances is nothing short of miraculous. Also, the fact that education outcomes has gone up in those circumstances is nothing short of miraculous. We have been able to keep pace with health service delivery and have had very good outcomes with HIV/AIDS and TB. We do have the highest incidence of TB but also the highest cure rates of TB in the world. Therefore, on all of those things, just keeping level means running as fast as we can, and we do that every single day. So, on basic service delivery and on all the basic indicators we are over 90% across this province in terms of basic services and access to basic services for people. We need to ensure that people get properly educated and that this economy grows and that it grows in sectors where people’s skills are in demand. One of the sectors in which we have been very successful in job creation is back-office processing. We have very big call centers and some of the world’s major companies have opened some of their call centers here: Lufthansa, Google and Amazon. This is due to our disposition of the right skills, time zone and the English language. Companies have often moved from India and other parts of the world to come and open call centers in the Western Cape. That has been a very big absorber of jobs and has made an enormous difference. The other area where we can do a lot is in the Green economy. We have started the SARETEC (South African Renewable Energy Technology Centre) at the Cape Town University of Technology and Cape Peninsular University of Technology to train the technicians and develop other skills that we need in that area. Furthermore, through the legislation on local procurement, we are able to push back into the economy to ensure that many of the components of the industries such as blade manufacturing and solar panel manufacturing are all sourced in South Africa. This makes an extraordinary difference in terms of local procurement. I mentioned agro-processing, which is taking products and beneficiating them. We have a very good agricultural sector in the Western Cape. Beneficiating the products in that agricultural sector is an area we can still grow very significantly. That is what we are trying to do. Anything to do with financial services and technology does very well here. We are also very well known for our tourism. We would also like to be known for other sectors as well. We would like to be the California of Africa, which has a variety of very developed sectors. We have extraordinarily good universities - the best university in Africa is the University of Cape Town. It is one of the top 100 universities in the world and it is therefore very competitive. We are an extraordinarily good hub of education, at all levels, which also make us very competitive.


One of the areas where we have seen massive success has been your ability to garner credibility internationally with investors. We’ve also seen you being involved with Chinese investors such as JINKO Solar Power. Creating investor confidence is obviously crucial. Are you open to investment from outside and what can the private sector and yourself do to push the Western Cape economy forward?

The bottom line is that without foreign investment we are not going to experience the growth that we need. Therefore, we are very committed to that and we do everything we can to remove red tape and obstacles for foreign investors. Niels Flaatten, of WESGRO, heads up our investment agency. He does an extraordinary job at facilitating, even as a one-stop shop, investment into the Western Cape. He does this to the tune of billions of Rand. There is also Alan Winde, the Minister of Economic Development and Economic Opportunity. Alan Winde has had a great innovation of starting a red tape reduction unit, in which, anybody who reports any obstacle to investment or economic development should report it to him. He then makes sure that the red tape is then reduced or removed. We work very closely with city and national government to reduce red tape to ensure that investors have a good experience here and can successfully start their businesses here.

When an investor comes into the Western Cape, one of the first things they will notice is that the DA is in charge, while it’s an ANC led country. We’ve seen very good results from the DA working with the ANC national government especially around industrial parks, etc. For the stability of an investor looking to come into the Western Cape, does this ever produce any problems?

No, not at all. Especially with the ministries, particularly our involvement with the ministry of trade and industry. We have an extraordinarily important Special Economic Zone (SEZ) coming up around our Atlantis and around Saldanha Bay which is a deep water port. There is going to be an extraordinarily innovative SEZ precisely to attract investment. That happens to be a national infrastructure project with which we are collaborating. We work very well with the national government on these kinds of projects. And we get on with doing them because we want South Africa to grow and they have projects in all the provinces. Therefore, political differences don’t come into play in these sorts of issues.

Could you please elaborate on your own challenges in terms of getting value for money in public administration? In terms of appropriation, following projects and procurement so as to get the best investment how have you found incorporating strict corporate governance guidelines in your province?

If people want to invest, they invest. They take the decision. The state does not interfere except in the parameters of getting registered and paying taxes. You have to assess your market and develop your enterprise.

In terms of your own infrastructure projects and corporate governance, by top-down leadership and building institutions, how have you found that in the Western Cape?

I found it reasonably good. Clearly the population likes our government because, since 2006, we have increased our vote from 42% to 61% in the cities. In the province it has risen from just under 42% to 59%. It has been a very steady growth. And we have been very clear on our governance goals. We’ve have put in an enormous amount into our priorities which starts with economic growth, job creation, education, health and safety outcomes, social inclusion – a whole range of issues. We have had some very big pioneering projects on the go. Obviously, there is often a slip between the vision that we have and the impact on the ground. However, we monitor that all the time. I have a social audit unit whose role it is to monitor whether the things we say we are doing, are actually being carried out on the ground. We believe strongly in this process. At the moment this unit is looking at computer laboratories in schools because we want those to be functioning well. We introduce new applications to teach children various subjects and this unit simply checks that everything is working properly.

The projects that you would point to are continuous challenges for private investors. Could you please tell us about projects that you are very proud of, that are indicators to private investors of what is possible? Also, could you please point out future projects in which it is still possible for investors to get involved?

One project that I am proud of is that we got Cape Town out of the red. When I became mayor in 2006, the city was virtually bankrupt. We managed to get people to pay their bills and get a good rating. When we wanted to take a bond issue it was oversubscribed by over a hundred times. I think that was a very good indicator of market confidence in the future of the Western Cape. We have been named by many as one of the prime cities in the world. The New York Times identified us as the number one city that must been seen and experienced. One important project that we have undertaken is the Cape Town International Convention Centre, which is one of the world’s best long-haul conference destinations and has generated many jobs. Another good thing that we have done is the Bus Rapid Transit System which marks a completely new era of public transport. Ironically, public transport is highly controversial because it takes away a lot from the private sector. For example, taxis have been causing mayhem in the city because we have rolled out this special transport system to areas where it didn’t use to exist. They feel that this encroaches on their business. Unfortunately, this is part of development and progress. And this has been a very important step in the right direction. Our broadband is going to be the best in Africa. It is going to link, for example, all of our schools by June 2015. Furthermore, youth-wage subsidy programs have been very important as they encourage companies to employ young people and we subsidize their salaries. This has introduced many young people into employment. Our HIV/AIDS program is by far one of the best in the world by reducing mother to child transmissions to almost zero which is extraordinary in our context.

I know you are very passionate about the fight against HIV/AIDS and in particular the fight to change the cultural aspects of how it gets passed on. Do you feel like you are making progress?

No, not really. It is a major conundrum. I really don’t know how we are going to combat it. The infection rate is going up, but our treatment programme is very good. The trouble is that it comes at a massive cost and big opportunity costs associated with that. We obviously have to keep people alive and we do that and budget the money that is required. However, we have to change behavior; it’s as simple as that.

Another area which is very important to visitors, tourism and businesses is security and crime. How are you combating crime within the city?

One of our biggest achievements has been to bring down crime in the centre of Cape Town by about 80% since we took office. We really have cleaned up the city. And that has been a partnership effort between the business sector, the city, the province and the police. We have all worked very hard together and have significantly reduced crime. This success has been as a result of community and police cooperation.

A few final questions on the DA and what you are trying to achieve. Obviously the world was very touched by the passing of Nelson Mandela as he was such an iconic figure. The question was asked about leadership and who would fill this void in Africa. Your party is making gains and producing cross-community results and providing an excellent example of a real, functioning democracy. How do you see the DA progressing over the next few years and being attractive to cross-province and community borders?

We are growing and we are the only party that is growing with every election. A lot of things are going to happen in the next five years. Firstly, it will be dominated by the slow disintegration of the ANC as the governing party. This, in my opinion, will be quite a troubling time for many people inside and outside the country. However, I think it is a very optimistic time for the future because I have very little doubt that the balance of forces will reside with people who want to defend the constitution and implement the national development plan. I certainly think that we far outnumber the populous although they make much more noise and gain more traction in newspapers sometimes through guerrilla theatre which is often much more attractive than other things. My newsletter this week was exactly on this issue. I am personally very optimistic about the future. I think that already in 2011 we could be in a new alignment that could bring about the forces of law and order, ones that support the constitution, rule of law and the national development plan which could be in a functional coalition that could even govern South Africa but could definitely rule in a few more provinces such as Gauteng. And if we govern Gauteng and the Western Cape that is a good space to be in.

We knew before meeting you today that we were going to meet an exceptionally driven woman, an Angela Merkel from Africa. Could you please tell us about your own personal drive and passion? And how have you managed to keep fighting in politics?

I love my job. It gives me a purpose. I love South Africa. I want my children to live and have families here, and to be secure. The only way that can happen is if everyone is secure. It is good to have a purpose in life and to have a reason to get of bed every morning. That is what I do.

Would you have a last message for American investors who need to be shaken, woken up and brought here in greater numbers to South Africa?

I am very excited about Africa’s prospects and I think that we are building up a base of skills and capital in a continent that can leapfrog many of the old technologies and straight to the heart of the 21st century. And we are providing the institutional, infrastructural and educational base as well as the example of democratic accountability to make that possible. Therefore, we are in a good space.

You have had an incredible career that is amazing by any standards. I am curious as to the people that have inspired you because you too are inspiring a generation of men and women across all demographics. What inspired you to make the transition from journalism to politics?

Entering into politics was a complete accident. I never meant to at all. I was always very active politically because I came from a highly politicized family. They always used to read a lot of newspapers and therefore I would do a lot of reading. I became a journalist and resigned in protest of their lukewarm stance over certain political issues. Then I joined a lot of struggle organizations and was active in those in the 1980s. Consequently, I had children and went on the governing body of their school. This inspired me to write a lot about education and I ended up chairing the governing board of the school. The new government under the ANC that I had supported for so long started to introduce measures that would destroy public education. Public education does not mean private education. It means state-funded education and I wanted to keep my children in public school and not send them to private schools. So I fought a very long and hard battle with other schools across the country to prevent the new government from doing that. Eventually, we had to take it to the high court and the supreme court of appeal, and we won those court cases which started getting me into the political arena. The government then changed the law to bypass the court case. I was very, very cross about that. I therefore decided to stand for election in the opposition after having written the Democratic Party’s education policy. From being a chairman of a governing body, I was within six months the minister for Education in the Province. It was a complete accident and I didn’t go out looking for it. I enjoy it. Actually, I was at the time Director of Communications for the University of Cape Town so I can’t say that I was a housewife. I have been working for my country for a long time and I will continue to try to make South Africa a better place to live for my children and their children after them.



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