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Mayoral Minute 2023: The year SA’s economic compass pointed to Cape Town


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Mayoral Minute 2023: The year SA’s economic compass pointed to Cape Town

City of Cape Town Mayor Geordin Hill-Lewis
City of Cape Town Mayor Geordin Hill-Lewis

18th December 2023


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In the second Mayoral Minute of this term of office, Cape Town Mayor Geordin Hill-Lewis reflects on progress made in the last year and what this means for Cape Town’s future. Read more below:

You may recall that around this time last year, I published the first Mayoral Minute in almost half a century. This review of the year gone by and reflection of Cape Town’s place in the world, the state of its economy, and wellbeing of its people, used to be an annual fixture for more than a century until it disappeared in the late 1970s. 


I think it is important to have such a document – a more personal reflection on the year in the City than the often dry annual reports and government documents – because it offers not only a more reader-friendly summary of our progress, but also a historical record for future generations. I was determined to revive the tradition, and I am pleased to now present to you my second Mayoral Minute to round off my second full year in office.

It’s been a busy year for us, to put it mildly, but an incredibly rewarding year as we took big strides in every area that we identified as critical to our five-year mission of building this already incredible city into a place of hope and opportunity for all who live and work here. 


There’s too much for me to cover it in great detail here, but I hope to give you a fairly comprehensive picture of 2023 in the City of Cape Town.

And speaking of reviving things, the Mayoral Minute is not the only tradition we’ve brought back. This year saw us reinstate the practice of bestowing Civic Honours on remarkable Capetonians – or, in some instances, former Capetonians as some have swapped Cape Town for addresses across the world. At the beginning of December, in a very moving Special Council Meeting, we honoured 13 individuals in our Civic Honours Book, and handed Mayor’s Medals to a further 10 Capetonians or groups.

It was such a joy and privilege to gather together the likes of Albie Sachs, Archbishop Thabo Makgoba, Breyten Breytenbach, Dr Imtiaz Sooliman, Athol Fugard, Desiree Ellis, Pieter-Dirk Uys and the relatives of Brenda Fassie, Bennie Rabinowitz, Basil D’Oliveira and Sailor Malan. Not to mention all the Mayor’s Medal recipients, who represent everything that is good about Cape Town’s caring and civic-minded residents.

This was the first time in twelve years that the City conferred Civic Honours, and it was undoubtedly one of the highlights of our year. In future, we plan to do this every two years. I’m sure you will agree that our city has no shortage of great citizens worthy of recognition, so please look out in future for our call for nominees.

Another revival very close to my heart is the restoration of our majestic pipe organ in the City Hall and the 39-bell carillon installed in the clock tower of the City Hall. Both of these instruments are of priceless value to Cape Town and are among the finest examples of their kind in the world. Once fully restored, our organ will be one of the best concert organs anywhere in the world, and the carillon, which also serves as a World War 1 memorial, will be the only functional instrument of its kind on the African continent.

We kicked off these projects with a wonderful fundraising auction at the City Hall in November, and I promise to keep you informed of the progress when these big restoration jobs commence.

Speaking of highlights of 2023, if this was a good year for the City of Cape Town, it was an extra special year for the residents of Langa, as this suburb – and Cape Town’s oldest township – celebrated its centenary. These celebrations happened at various occasions throughout the year, and included a big music festival and a sports festival, where we also celebrated 100 years of the Busy Bees Rugby Club – Cape Town’s oldest black rugby club, and one of the recipients of the Mayor’s Medal.

Langa is not only an important part of our city’s history, but also of its future. It is a suburb on the up – well located near the city centre, and with lots of potential for tourism and other enterprises. That is why we have invested plenty of time and resources this year in restoring Langa’s historic landmarks, upgrading its trading precinct and engaging its residents on future projects. I am excited at the prospect of this suburb’s trajectory, and what this progress will mean for the people of Langa.

2023 has also been an extremely busy year for the City as far as events and tournaments are concerned. We have become, without a doubt, the premier sports and events destination on the African continent, and the list of global sporting events hosted in Cape Town this year alone is staggering. 

From our very first Formula E race through the streets of Cape Town, to the landmark Netball World Cup, we have put on show after spectacular show for global audiences, and our city was repeatedly beamed across the world to millions of viewers.

Other highlights included the Cape Town stopover of the round-the-world Ocean Race, the Women’s T20 Cricket World Cup, the iconic Cape Town Cycle Tour, the Two Oceans Marathon, the Cape Epic Mountain Bike Race, all the Stormers’ home games in the URC, and the Cape Town leg of the HSBC Sevens series. Each of these events was an opportunity to broadcast not only that particular sport, but also to show the world what Cape Town is about and what we have to offer visitors.

There is no better advertisement for our city than a well-run event, and the fantastic exposure we received in this bumper sports year has been of immense value to our city, not to mention the boost of thousands of travelling supporters. I assure you, 2023 was no outlier. We will continue to market Cape Town as South Africa – and Africa’s – sports events capital, and we will continue to welcome the world to the Mother City.

But 2023 wasn’t all plain sailing in Cape Town, as I’m sure you will recall. We had our fair share of challenges, and none bigger than the distressing and disruptive taxi strike in August. I said it at the time, and I’ll say it again here: We respect the rights of residents, workers and organisations to protest. This is a critical cornerstone of our democracy, and we can never diminish those rights. But every protest has to happen within the rules of the game, and every negotiation has to be free from threats of violence.

Those conditions for protest are non-negotiable, and when the taxi industry overstepped those boundaries, we had to take a principled stand on the side of the residents of our city and the Rule of Law. The week of the protest – and particularly that first day when taxi services were cancelled without notice in the middle of a working day, leaving thousands of Capetonian workers and school children stranded until late at night – is not something we want to see again in our city.

And indeed, the negotiated agreement that followed the strike set out very clearly that no protest in future may be declared without notice. For a week, our city was held hostage by an illegal protest. People lost their lives, millions of Rands of vehicles and infrastructure were destroyed and schools and businesses suffered considerable disruptions. But we emerged from this crisis stronger than we were before. By setting a precedent and not giving in to violent threats, we not only established firm rules for the taxi industry to abide by, we also strengthened the very concept of the Rule of Law.

Perhaps the most encouraging outcome for Cape Town from 2023 – against the backdrop of our struggling national economy – has been the performance of our own local economy. 

This will be remembered as the year in which South Africa’s economic compass began pointing undeniably to Cape Town.

Our City is increasingly at the heart of national economic growth and will soon overtake Johannesburg as our country’s most populous city, with census data showing we are about to cross the 5 million resident mark. Cape Town’s success has catapulted a new phrase – “semigration” – into the national lexicon, as people move their lives and businesses here.

I said at the very beginning of this term, that our higher purpose is to achieve economic growth that lifts more people out of poverty over time. And while we still have much work to do, Cape Town is increasingly that beacon of hope, having added over 205 000 new jobs in the last year – more than all the other metros combined.

Employment in Cape Town has now surpassed pre-Covid levels for four straight quarters, and we are at the foot of what will certainly be a booming festive peak season for tourism. There is confidence in the Cape Town economy and the Cape Town property market, and our intention is to capitalise on that confidence by making Cape Town the easiest place to do business on the African continent. Our newly launched “Ease of Doing Business Index” is tracking ten critical indicators to hold ourselves publicly accountable and fast track new investment into our economy.

Most importantly, we are making the right investments now to future-proof our city, and ensure that Cape Town can cope with its growth and improve the quality of life of those still living in poverty.

We’ve made this intention clear, not in speeches and promises, but where it really matters: in our budget. Our record R43bn 3-year infrastructure budget is by far the largest of South Africa’s cities. In fact, it is more than Johannesburg and Durban’s planned infrastructure spend combined. A new Infrastructure Report is now an annual transparency feature of our city, detailing our ten-year infrastructure pipeline right down to area level, and giving confidence to industry and financiers.

To give you an idea of the scale of work we’re undertaking, 2023 saw construction begin on the two biggest infrastructure projects in the Western Cape province. The second-biggest being the extension and upgrade of the Potsdam wastewater treatment plant, and the biggest being the Metro South East corridor expansion of the MyCiti bus service to connect Khayelitsha and Mitchells Plain with Wynberg and Claremont.

Seeing these mega projects getting underway knowing how much work and planning has gone into them, and knowing what an absolute game-changer they will be for the residents of those communities, is incredibly rewarding.

Of all the projects we’ve undertaken, it is perhaps the work we’re doing in the water and sanitation field that has excited me most. Mostly hidden underground and seldom mentioned until something goes wrong, the city’s network of sewer pipes, water pipes, pump stations and wastewater treatment plants is the most important public infrastructure in any city. It is the arterial network that sustains life and ensures dignity.

The work we’re doing now will provide dignified sanitation services for many decades to come. This year we successfully doubled our sewer pipe replacement, and next year we will quadruple it, while also jet-cleaning 200km of sewer annually. We are ploughing R1.4bn into major bulk sewer upgrades, including South Africa’s largest sewer upgrade project to the Cape Flats line, happening alongside upgrades to the Milnerton, Philippi, and Gordon’s Bay lines.

This work swallows up the lion’s share of our capital expenditure budget, but if we want Cape Town to be ready for its future – and if we want all our 5 million residents to be able to live lives of dignity – then this is where we need to be spending money. We only need to look at the collapse of water and sanitation infrastructure elsewhere in the country to see what the future would look like without these investments.

2023 was also a year in which we took big steps towards making our city more water secure. Cape Town is a city that stood together in the drought, and learnt the right lessons about water security. We are making steady progress on adding 300 million litres of water per day from new sources by 2030, including water re-use, seawater desalination, and groundwater extraction from two major aquifers.

We have just hosted mayors from around the world where water re-use is already taking place, or where it is also just starting, as we are doing here. As we take our first steps in this field, it was fascinating and encouraging to hear from those who have been practising water reclamation and re-use for years. In neighbouring Namibia, the City of Windhoek has been doing so for 55 years already! 

Perhaps the most important thing we can do for economic growth right now is to end load-shedding as soon as possible.

Just at the start of this month, our 500MW dispatchable energy tender bid window closed, while our 200MW embedded independent power tender will start awarding contracts in the first quarter of next year. This month we are also going out on a third tender – for 200MW of existing independent power.

We know that the lives of our residents and their ability to step out of poverty and into jobs is inextricably linked to stopping load-shedding. As Cape Town leads the path away from Eskom reliance, we are on track to protect against the first four stages of Eskom’s load-shedding by 2025/26.

A big part of this will come down to putting power in the hands of people – by buying their excess solar power, by enabling third parties to sell and wheel their power to each other across our well-maintained grid, and by incentivising voluntary Power Heroes to cut their peak-time usage. 

Early in the new year, we will make it increasingly easier for residents to join hands with us to end load-shedding together. We will roll out cheaper AMI meters and an easy online portal to authorise private solar PV installations. We will open the process for residents to sign up as Power Heroes in exchange for incentives, and we will open the way for residents to sign-up to get Cash for Power. 

We are already enabling businesses to do this – by ending the “net consumption” requirement, crediting electricity sales to us against the full municipal bill down to R0, and enabling cash payments beyond this point.

This year in a South African first, the first electrons were “wheeled” across Cape Town’s grid as part of private sales between third parties, and we expect this to contribute around 350MW of new power to our grid in time. 

Cape Town has long proven that it is South Africa’s leading city for resilience – in clean energy and water security – and it is also our aspiration to restore the environmental health of our waterways, and clean up our public places.

Our major recreational vleis have remained open every day of this year – the first time we have been able to do this in years – and we are making steady strides to ensure the health of these waterbodies so that all communities may enjoy them for generations to come. 

We’ve just installed new aeration filters at the Milnerton Lagoon, to improve oxygen levels in the Diep River. We’ve also begun the preparatory work for a major dredging of the lagoon, the first in decades, to remove all the decades-long build-up of pollution. 

One of the vlei projects that I am incredibly excited about, and which I have been actively following through factory visits and by poring over technical drawings, is the construction and delivery of three specialised weed harvesters for Zandvlei and Rietvlei. Locally designed and built, these amazing machines will help us remove weeds that would otherwise take over the vlei.

Last month, the first of these three weed harvesters – christened the Cape Shoveler after a local waterfowl – was delivered and launched at Zandvlei, with Rietvlei set to get its own one early in the new year. 

Capetonians must never tire in our passion for cleaning up our city – our beaches, our waterbodies, our public spaces and the streets of our suburbs and CBD. Indeed we look up to cities like Kigali in Rwanda and we are determined that we too can change the culture of litter and disrespect for public places in our city. 

That is why we have spent this year talking to the next generation, and launching our new anti-litter mascot, a green litter bin character named Bingo by residents. The message we are spreading – school by school – is to always “bin it in the Bingo bin”. The City is also playing its part in improving waste management, with eight new litter booms spreading out across our rivers to catch litter heading downstream towards the oceans.

In the future we want our City to not only be a clean place where the environment is protected, but also a much safer place for all residents, especially those in our most vulnerable crime-ridden communities.

This has been one of the most frustrating areas of delivery for us, as policing is still a function of the national government under SAPS, and the under-resourcing of many of Cape Town’s worst crime areas has left residents at the mercy of gangsters and other criminals. But we are not waiting around for that to change. We have our own plans to strengthen safety in our city, and we are determined to ultimately take on more policing powers so that the safety of our residents is in our own hands.

We are investing in making Cape Town safer, by growing our municipal policing resources to become a much more powerful, smart crime fighting force, despite having only a fraction of the resources of the SAPS. This year we began South Africa’s biggest bodycam rollout to our officers, as well as the rollout of automated number plate recognition and vehicle dashcams throughout our services. Notably, our new Highway Patrol Unit achieved over 1 000 arrests in their first year by using this tech to make our roads safer for all.

This festive season will also see our largest ever seasonal safety deployment. This includes a special 300-officer deployment to beaches, and an 80 strong deployment to the CBD, tourism hotspots, and Table Mountain, where we continue to support SANPARKS’ efforts to keep hikers and runners safe.

Our nearly 1300 LEAP officers, funded in partnership with the Western Cape government, continue to do incredible and heroic work every day in gang and drug hotspots – recovering illegal weapons, busting gangsters and saving lives. Residents living in gang, gun and drug hotspots in daily fear of crime must know this: we will never stop fighting for more policing powers so we can do more where SAPS cannot. 

It has been demonstrated throughout the world that the most effective policing happens when it is managed locally, by those familiar with the challenges of particular communities. We will strongly and vigorously resist any attempt to weaken municipal policing powers, and in fact will lead the charge for much more policing powers at a metro level. In particular, we will fight for investigative powers so we can build prosecution-ready case dockets on gang, gun and drug crime, and prevent those we’ve arrested from returning straight back to the streets.

And policing is not the only government function better managed at a local level. We are also fully prepared to launch a formal dispute process on taking over passenger rail, as working trains are vital for economic growth. 

To lay the foundation for devolution, this year we continued to advance our Rail Feasibility Study, as well as conducting talks with Prasa to finalise a Service Level Agreement to guide passenger rail standards, now and in a devolved future system. Our research shows that poor households will save R930m a year with working trains, and we will not stop pushing for devolution until we get this done.

One of the most effective ways to dismantle the spatial legacy of our divided past is by offering a reliable and affordable public transport network to all areas of the city. Restoring the Metrorail service is very much part of that plan, as is the MyCiti south-east expansion.

But of course the other way to undo apartheid spatial legacy is by making available more affordable housing, along public transport routes, close to economic opportunity. 

This year we made progress on releasing land for more than 2 200 social housing units across seven land parcels, mostly in Cape Town’s inner city.

This includes the approval of our largest ever inner City project last month – with the final land release for the 1800-unit Pickwick development in Salt River. The development is set to include 840 social housing units, up from the forecasted 600 social housing units, largely thanks to our recently published “land release discount” guidelines, which helps to maximise social housing yield on every parcel of land we release. This year we also passed an innovative “No cost transfer” policy to turn council rental unit tenants into homeowners without cost to them.

Underpinning all of our key priorities, is a commitment to doing the basics better for residents, and to be a caring, responsive city, especially for the most vulnerable. 2023 has been a good year in this regard.

This year we upgraded our service delivery reporting system to include status updates to residents requesting services. This is more than just compliance – good governance, an ethical culture, and transparency are the foundation of the state’s ability to deliver, especially for the vulnerable.

A comprehensive study of City contracts – for which we recently released a new Value for Money transparency report – has found that the City is able to make a full 79% of procurements at below-market rates, stretching the public rand further on service delivery essentials such as gravel for roads, streetlights, sewer cleaning, and scores of other categories. 

This is just one example of what happens behind the scenes to achieve the savings that ultimately enable more pro-poor spending. A full 74% of our infrastructure budget this year benefits lower income households directly, and our metro has the most comprehensive indigent support package of all cities, including the cheapest lifeline electricity and widest reach for free basic services.

This is the way it should be. Our city’s progress is measured by the progress of its most vulnerable residents. As mayor, it is important to me that Cape Town is, first and foremost, a caring city. 

It is important for me that we set aside resources for the most destitute – like the R230m we are pumping into City-run Safe Space shelters for the homeless over three years. These places are far more than just a bed and a hot meal. They represent a pathway off the streets, with a host of social support services designed to help reintegrate people back into society.

When we care for the vulnerable, when we take pride in our community and city, then nothing can stand in the path of our progress. 

When you survey our past year in this summarised form, the positive progress is incredibly encouraging. It is what makes my job one of the most rewarding and enjoyable jobs in the world. 

Of course there are challenges and unexpected hurdles – no city of 5 million people doesn’t have those things. But we remain motivated by our clear sense of higher purpose: that Cape Town will be the city of hope in South Africa; that we will grow our economy faster and move people out of poverty. And that we will then show the rest of the country that these things are indeed possible – that no one has to accept decline, neglect and decay as inevitable.

To Capetonians, I thank you for your extraordinary support, your kindness to one another, and your care for our city. Together, we’ve had a great year.

Many things threatened to divide us this year, to change us and deter us from our path – from international conflicts, to local divisive populist politics of hate. But we are more than the sum of our parts – we are stronger together, as the Springboks showed us again. And next year we will be back stronger than ever to show our country what Cape Town – and Capetonians – are made of.

With our festive lights already switched on – under the theme “A Future of Hope” – I bid you all a safe and blessed festive season with your loved ones, and a very Merry Christmas to all who celebrate!


Issued by City of Cape Town


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