SA’s City of Hope – Mayor GHL on the rise and rise of Cape Town

In December, 317,000 international visitors landed in Cape Town, a record for a single month. The multiplier effect on the local economy of so many visitors spending hard currency is enormous, supporting a virtuous cycle confirming good governance’s dividend. The city’s executive mayor, Geordin Hill-Lewis (37), fresh from a mini-speaking tour abroad at the invitation of his counterparts in New York and London, has just unveiled another initiative to support a campaign promise of making the city load-shedding free by 2026. The progress on electricity is one of numerous ways SA’s “City of Hope” has become a template for other Metros. GHL reckons it all begins with financial stability. He spoke to BizNews editor Alec Hogg.

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Relevant timestamps from the interview

  • 00:00 – Introduction
  • 00:28 – Do you learn much from your visits to other mayors?
  • 02:28 – Record high amount of foreign visitors this December
  • 04:06 – What is the process of increasing international flights to CPT’s airport?
  • 06:01 – Threats of making the Western Cape ungovernable
  • 08:32 – Technologies ability to aid in governing
  • 12:08 – Update on making CPT load shedding free
  • 15:47 – Can other cities in SA see the same results from your approach
  • 18:10 – How long would that take?
  • 18:37 – Conclusion

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Edited transcript of the interview

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Alec Hogg: Geordin Hill-Lewis, the executive mayor of Cape Town, good to catch up with you again. I’ve noticed you’ve been traveling extensively, sharing photos from places like New York, Washington, and London on Twitter. Do these trips provide valuable insights from engagements with other mayors?

Geordin Hill-Lewis: Absolutely, Alec. Engaging with other mayors is enlightening. Despite differences, we share common challenges. During my recent trip, I addressed invitations from the London School of Economics, the US Chamber of Commerce, and more. It’s efficient to group such engagements, making it a positive and enjoyable experience.

Alec Hogg: Great to hear that positive reaction. How did your engagements in London and the US go?

Geordin Hill-Lewis: London was fantastic, with a strong awareness of Cape Town. The London School of Economics event had a packed auditorium and positive feedback. In the US, awareness is lower, and perceptions of South Africa are sometimes negative. It’s crucial to differentiate and convey the accurate story, emphasizing the diversity of our country.

Alec Hogg: With the upcoming State of the Nation, it’s evident that Cape Town has a compelling story, especially with the record 317,000 international visitors in December. What contributed to this achievement?

Geordin Hill-Lewis: Several factors played a role. South Africa’s appeal as a low-cost destination, Cape Town’s global brand, and successful marketing campaigns contributed. The significant impact, however, came from efforts, in collaboration with the provincial government, to secure more direct flights. The three new direct flights from DC, New York, and Atlanta have notably increased international visitors.

Alec Hogg: How do you plan to further increase these international flights into Cape Town International Airport?

Geordin Hill-Lewis: While there are some national requirements to navigate, Westgrow, our joint agency with the province, actively courts airlines globally. Modest incentives are offered, and once airlines recognise Cape Town’s attractiveness, they often embrace the opportunity. Currently, we have 215 direct international flights weekly, a significant boost for the city.

Alec Hogg: Alright, those are positive updates, working towards making Cape Town a city of hope. However, we’ve observed arson attacks in my area recently, and there’s talk of making the Western Cape ungovernable before the election. Are you witnessing such challenges, and if so, what actions can be taken?

Geordin Hill-Lewis: Yes, we’ve had a challenging fire season, likely mostly man-made incidents. While suspicions of arson persist, we lack concrete evidence. Our fire crews and professionals are vigilant, urging residents to report anything suspicious. I agree with Mayor Rabie that election periods often see attempts to create chaos, with so-called service delivery protests escalating in violence. Despite threats to make the Western Cape ungovernable, previous attempts failed, and we remain vigilant.

Alec Hogg: Geordin, can you share insights into your crime prevention strategy? Frans Cronje praised your use of technology. How has it contributed?

Geordin Hill-Lewis: Certainly. Our crime prevention strategy involves leveraging technology. Praise from individuals like France Grignard highlights the success we’ve achieved through technological advancements in crime prevention.

Alec Hogg: Certainly, using technology aids in preventing mischief. Will the new Eye in the Sky technology further enhance this effort?

Geordin Hill-Lewis: Absolutely. The Eye in the Sky technology, arriving soon, will provide high-definition video footage across the city, aiding quick response to incidents like crimes, fires, and accidents. It’s a significant addition to our technology initiatives, including smaller drones, compulsory body cameras, and license plate recognition on vehicles.

Alec Hogg: Impressive. Moving on to crime prevention, can you elaborate on your strategy and how technology contributes?

Geordin Hill-Lewis: Our crime prevention strategy relies on technology, making officers more effective. While we can’t afford additional officers, the use of technology, such as real-time intelligence and data-led deployments in crime hotspots, significantly boosts our capabilities.

Alec Hogg: Now, on the energy front, you promised to make Cape Town load shedding free. Where are you in achieving this goal?

Geordin Hill-Lewis: The procurement for 500 megawatts is complete, with successful bidders identified. Other interventions include cheaper feed-in meters, faster permissions for solar installations, increased feed-in tariffs, and the Power Heroes program for peak hours. These efforts, along with technological advancements, aim to attract more business and make Cape Town load shedding-free.

Alec Hogg: Your template for energy management seems effective. Can it be replicated in other struggling cities?

Geordin Hill-lewis: Stabilising finances is key, and Cape Town is the only financially healthy city according to a National Treasury report. Once finances are stable, replicating the model is possible, but it requires years of effort, right-sizing debt, and exploring public-private partnerships to fund essential services.

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