🔒 John Matisonn: Geordin Hill-Lewis looks a likely GNU minister

Cape Town mayor Geordin Hill-Lewis is poised for a key economic role in the new cabinet, likely as the Minister of Trade and Industry. This comes amid coalition government negotiations. Hill-Lewis, 37, renowned for his tenure as mayor, boasts impressive credentials, including roles as shadow Finance Minister and Trade and Industry expert. His potential appointment signifies a strategic move to streamline trade policies and bolster small business support.

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By John Matisonn

Cape Town mayor Geordin Hill-Lewis may be set for an economic portfolio in the new cabinet, probably as the Minister of Trade and Industry, if the agreement to form a coalition government is not derailed. ___STEADY_PAYWALL___

Sa sources indicate that the party’s decision on a successor as mayor are at an advanced stage. 

This could catapult him to a leading role in the next Parliament, even though he is currently not an MP. The constitution provides for two members of cabinet not from Parliament, and the DA can also find him a seat by moving one of the elected MPs to a different position.

Hill-Lewis, Cape Town mayor since 2021, is seen as the most promising next generation DA leader, along with Chris Pappas, the Zulu-speaking mayor of Umgeni in KwaZulu-Natal. Pappas will return to his mayoral slot after running unsuccessfully as the DA candidate for provincial premier. Nevertheless, at 33, he is clearly earmarked for bigger things.

Hill-Lewis’ most likely role will be as the leading DA figure on the economy. 

Hill-Lewis, who is 37, has been considered a particularly successful mayor. He is well credentialed for the Trade and Industry portfolio, as his party’s shadow minister or deputy in this portfolio from 2011 to 2021, when he was an MP. He was also shadow Finance Minister.

He has a B.Com and an Honours degree in politics, philosophy and economics from the University of Cape Town, and an MA in economic policy from the University of London. Not unhelpfully, early in his professional career he was former leader Helen Zille’s chief of staff, having founded the Democratic Alliance Student Organisation (DASO) at university. 

Some argued for the leading DA figure in government to become Finance Minister, but the ANC is unlikely to accept that option. Besides, it’s not the best place to put the DA’s most valuable economic figure.  Treasury policy is unlikely to change much under either party, given the constraints of their coalitional agreement.

But what about Trade and Industry?

The Department is the source of much of the red tape that business complains of, and a DA minister would likely want radical change to trade policy. A new minister could also streamline and improve assistance to small business.

Even supporters of the ANC’s so-called “developmental state” policy ask why DTI’s industrial policy has achieved so little, since the growth rate remains among the worst in Africa. It’s likely that Hill-Lewis could do considerable good at DTI, but the truth is that DTI is not where the biggest drivers of economic growth are likely to come from.

DTI can streamline procedures and cut red tape, and negotiate friendlier trade agreements. But it does not control the key departments where electricity, rail and ports have deteriorated. 

If this infrastructure was working well, the best portfolios for bringing about rapid growth are, besides energy, mining, communications, tourism as well as agriculture if new ministers have the expertise and budget support to bring the necessary reforms.

Trade and Industry has for many years been filled by ministers from the left-wing of the ANC, currently Ebrahim Patel from the trade union movement and his predecessor Dr Robert Davies, an economist and member of the SA Communist Party.

Before them trade and industry had been plagued by unsuccessful attempts to set up a bureau to assist small business, and by crudely implemented free trade policies under the World Trade Organisation regime, which led to the destruction of most of South Africa’s successful clothing and textile industry.

Davies and Patel had some success in reviving selective apparel companies, but both ministers antagonised business and many projects aroused hostility.

Another reason for government’s failure to grow the economy was the character of government across departments. Poor leadership, exceptionally high levels of corruption, and a lack of understanding of the drivers of growth were exacerbated by a “silo” mentality, under which each department jealously guarded its territory for reasons that lacked an economic basis.

Hill-Lewis has one more advantage that could smooth his passage into cohabitation with the ANC. During the election campaign the DA faced accusations that it sided with Israel in the Gaza conflict, and that it was noticeably slower to criticise Israel than it had been over Ukraine, where it vocally attacked Russia after its invasion. DA leader John Steenhuisen visited Ukraine to show support for its battle against Russia. 

One respected DA MP, Ghaleb Cachalia, resigned from the party and parliament in protest because he claimed the party had silenced him when he took a stand against Israel’s conduct of the war. 

The ANC and other opposition parties used the DA’s position in the campaign to win over formerly DA Muslim voters. Pollsters questioned whether this made significant difference to the final vote. 

Nevertheless, Hill-Lewis avoided entanglement in this conflict. He pointed out he has consistently criticised Israel’s support for settlements on the West Bank, and actions by the Prime Minister, Bibi Netanyahu, undermining democracy. 

“I hope all Capetonians support people facing invasion and illegitmate violence against them wherever they might be, whether it be in Palestine or Ukraine,” he told a Cape Town Muslim radio station.   

Discussions in DA circles on who will replace him as mayor have reached an advanced state.

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