Set in serene countryside around 150 kilometres north east of Cape Town, Witzenberg Municipality has a very laid back way of life which it has successfully marketed for economic benefit.
A 90 minute drive along Route 62 from Cape Town, takes you into a different world, one comprising of 5 beautiful quaint towns in Ceres, Tulbagh, Wolseley, Op-die-Berg and Prince Alfred’s Hamlet.
In the year 2000, the five came together to form Witzenberg, as Deputy Mayor Karriem Adams told SABC’s Morning Live earlier this year:
“Witzenberg consists of 5 towns. The 5 towns were amalgamated into one and that is where we came up with the name Witzenberg. Ceres is the administration town.
“Worldwide we are known for our juices but we also produce pears and apples and of course the cherries. You can go up to the farm, walk up to the farm and pick your own cherries and as you come out they weight it for you and you pay for what you pick and walk away with your own flavour and your own type of cherries.”
Agriculture has long formed an essential part of life in Witzenberg, as the Municipality’s website acknowledges: “This picturesque valley is not only the origin of the best of South Africa’s deciduous fruit and wine products, but among the produce nurtured in Witzenberg are olives, grain, beef and pork.”
In addition to the successful traditional industries of the region, Witzenberg has become a popular tourism destination in recent years and not just for the stunning scenery, as Deputy Mayor Adams eluded in his interview:
“In winter the area is covered in snow. Witzenberg is also known as “Little Switzerland” and we have snow virtually every day in the winter.
“Belgium went as far as to sign a touring agreement with us and have invested millions of rand into Tulbagh and Wolseley and plan to put up another building in Op-die-Berg – those people are really investing. Witzenberg is a place not only for retirement but also for investment,” he emphasized.
The Witzenberg local municipality promulgated as Witzenberg Municipality or in Afrikaans Munisipaliteit Witzenberg, was established per provincial notice 487 of an extraordinary provincial gazette 5590 dated 22 September 2000. Witzenberg consists of the disestablished Municipality of Ceres, Matroosberg Transitional Representative Council, Municipality of Prince Alfred´s Hamlet, Tulbagh Municipality, Witzenberg Transitional Representative Council and the Municipality for the area of Wolseley. According to the website, Witzenberg includes approximately 12,400 properties (farms in erven) in the area with more than 17,000 residential buildings and 1,400 informal structures. The population is approximately 73,000 inhabitants of which 18,800 are residents on farms and more than 6,600 in informal structures on un-serviced properties.
Context is of course of vital importance for the administration running Witzenberg Municipality and is beautifully encapsulated by Executive Mayor Jacques Klaven in the latest published Annual Report:
“Nestled in the valley of fertility, our municipality is well known globally for its agrarian backdrop, rich wines, delicious fruit juices, Rieldans and niche tourism. A keen focus for our municipality is purporting the ethos of entrepreneurship and local economic development. Seasonal and limited employment threatens the security of our communities but we perceive this as an opportunity for growth and innovation. In Witzenberg, our people believe that you can only fail if you stop trying.
“Witzenberg Municipality strives to improve service delivery to our people, our local business environment and draw potential investment to our district. Witzenberg Municipality is not a metro and so we do not aim to compete with other municipalities but instead aim to be a trend‐setter in rural development. We encourage our management to seek solutions to address our specific needs, whilst preserving our heritage and identity. What works in the city does not necessarily work in our environment.
“This year has been an industrious and productive year and I am proud to announce the achievement of our clean audit. What makes the achievement much more significant is that the municipality was previously classified as a project consolidate municipality and is also governed by a coalition political leadership (DA, Cope, Independent, DCP and VIP).
“Witzenberg Municipality has entered into a formal agreement with the Ceres Businesses Initiative to focus upon and guide local entrepreneurial enterprise. Witzenberg is resolute about providing the youth with marketable skills and on‐job experience through temporary work schemes and mentorship. Nurturing the spirit of entrepreneurship, Witzenberg offers assistance to local contractors so that they can flourish and become nationally competitive. Witzenberg has also made great strides in service
delivery through the improvement of water quality and waste management with the objective of becoming competitive as a premium tourism destination and a first‐rate investment option for the agricultural and business sectors.”
Witzenberg has made good on its attempts to attract not just internal investment but by reaching out to the wider world. Exports play an important economic role and the Municipality has had a twinning agreement with Essen Municipality in Belgium, since 2002.
“This agreement focussed specifically upon youth development,” Klazen comments in the Annual Report. “During a recent visit by the Essen delegation, a new agreement was drafted to include the environment as well. The continuation of this 10 year long, city‐to‐city agreement is the result of hard work and a commitment towards developing Witzenberg Municipality. The previous agreement specifically targeted Tulbagh and Wolseley communities and Witzenberg Municipality is gratified that Essen Municipality is willing to support our youth in the future.”
Witzenburg has also rolled out an Extended Public Works Programme with projects concentrating on environmental management – which have contributed to the cleanliness of each town and had the twin benefit of job creation.
“The Municipality also received two awards from the Western Cape Government: Environmental Affairs and Development Planning in the 2013 Greenest Municipality competition. One award was a certificate of an outstanding achievement in the category innovation project. The project allows access energy produce from the 500kVa Photovoltaic system on Ceres Cold Storage Rooms system to be bed back onto the grid, via net‐metering. The other certificate of outstanding achievement was for the most improved municipality in the field of Energy Efficiency and Conservation,” added Klazen.
“In conclusion, Witzenberg Municipality faces the future with optimism. I would like to take this opportunity to thank and acknowledge the Mayoral Council, the Municipal Manager, the directorates, our municipal staff and the residents of Witzenberg Municipality for their commitment, focus and perseverance to develop our home into a flourishing hub of tourism, business development and agricultural expansion. It gives me great pride to serve Witzenberg as Executive Mayor and I welcome the challenges to come as I know that we will overcome them together,” he ended.