City of Cape Town: On the road to socio-economic fulfilment

In many ways Cape Town is the world’s window to South Africa. From the history and array of beautiful beaches, to the picturesque sight of Table Mountain, the city attracts tourists from around the globe. But beyond the aesthetically pleasing external, lie a range of social and economic challenges currently being tackled by the city’s municipality.  

CCT-Logo-rgb-englishWith a land area of 2,461 square kilometres and a 2011 population in excess of 3.7 million people, Cape Town is the second largest city in South Africa, with a 2011 GDP of R203.581 million.

With such enormous figures come a range of social and infrastructure issues and in 2011 it was reported that unemployment stood at a figure of 23.8 per cent, whilst over 35 per cent of residents lived below the poverty line that same year.

At local government level, the City of Cape Town has identified a clear link between upgrading infrastructure and alleviating some of the social pressures within the population. It is potentially a win-win opportunity to improve the city’s facilities and create jobs.

Cape Town’s local government is the City of Cape Town, which is a metropolitan municipality. Cape Town is governed by a 221-member city council. The city is divided into 111 electoral wards; each ward directly elects one member of the council, whilst the other 110 councillors are elected by a system of party-list proportional representation.

To help give the city impetus, the municipality has embarked upon a major urban renewal programme within the central business district, with numerous new buildings and renovations taking place under the guidance of the Cape Town Partnership.

In 2012 The SA-Mag reported that the city had adopted a ‘5 Year Plan’ also known as an Integrated Development Plan (IDP), which is designed to identify and develop a raft of projects aimed at improving public transport systems, roads and water treatment.

Councillor Brett Herron has been a Member of the Mayoral Committee for Roads and Stormwater since the last municipal elections in May 2011. His role as a politician is to help prioritise each project and ensure work is fully planned and operates within budget and on-time.

Last year he spoke to The SA-Mag and underlined the significant social and economic impact of design and infrastructure improvements:

“The configuration and transformation of the public transport system in Cape Town requires a significant amount of infrastructure improvement,” he acknowledged, “the road network is another core element and there has been an historical backlog of “apartheid roads” that have been in dire need of upgrading within some of the most disadvantaged areas of the city.”

“We are very mindful of improving public transport and roadways in some of the apartheid legacy areas. We are trying to undo social and economic exclusion and the work we are undertaking will make some of the more disadvantaged areas much more commutable.”

When we spoke, the city was in Phase 1A of its programme to create a bus rapid transport system called MyCiti. After a period of uncertainty, caused by legal issues, the High Court recently gave the city the go-ahead to complete this phase of its programme, as Cllr Herron explains:

“There was a spell of disruption when a local company called Golden Arrow brought a high court application to seek an order interdicting the city from concluding long term operating contracts and an order to refer their dispute to arbitration. However the High Court has recently ruled in the city’s favour and we are aiming to have Phase 1A completely rolled-out by the end of November this year.

“From December we are also looking to introduce a new express bus service called the N2 Express Service, which is to run from Khayelitsha to the City Centre and from Mitchell’s Plain,to the City Centre, as part of the BRT; this route will have unlimited stops. This project will create short-term construction jobs and we will also place an order for new buses,” he continues.

“The bus contract alone is R180 million and we are currently in negotiations with the winning bidder, about the possibility of providing an assembly plant in Cape Town which would be an exciting opportunity to create jobs.”

Cllr Herron says that the city has also put in place a R500 million budget for road improvement projects for the next three years, which have the objective of improving links to the city’s disadvantaged areas.

Whilst the city’s transport programme has been in effect for some time, measurable results are still hard to quantify, although Cllr Herron says initial signs and feedback are encouraging:

“There is still a long way to go and we have been in an interim period of limited service – we should have a much better idea of the impact of our programme towards the end of this year. What we do know is that we have had more than 6 million passenger trips since the inception of the service.  We have about 12 000 passenger trips a day during the week.

“There is a substantial appetite for public transport and we expect to see a reduction in the number of cars on the road as we roll out and extend the permanent footprint of the MyCiTi service.

“The next phase will be Phase 1B from October 2014 and the express system should be completed in November. Planning of the next phase is expected to be finalised early next year and construction will commence later in 2014.

“We have learnt from our recent experiences so whilst most of the work will be similar, there will be a few changes, such as using buses suited to lower floors.”

Of course the various projects underway are geared towards the long-term benefit of Cape Town. However, many of these programmes run in conjunction with the Government’s Expanded Public Works Programme and provide new skills, training and job opportunities.

Cllr Herron says that as many as 7,000 people could benefit from job opportunities this year, with the city also focusing on skills development:

“Within our utility section we are now rolling out an apprenticeship programme which will recruit around 40 people each year,” he confirms.

Of course the city’s efforts to enhance quality of life goes far beyond upgrading road and transport systems. Cllr Herron has observed a gradual economic improvement in the area, which the city has helped to foster through various national and international initiatives:

“We are doing everything we can to encourage and nurture growth and investment and also to promote the concept that Cape Town is an efficient place to have a corporate head office. We are seeing private development and construction starting again; including a number of projects which were put on hold but are now resuming. We are also starting to see new applications for development in growth areas.

“The city is working hard to attract both foreign and local investment and we have established a Red Tape to Red Carpet programme, whilst there is an incentives initiative currently in draft, awaiting approval over the next few months.”

The coming year promises to be exciting for the city of Cape Town, which has been designated World Design Capital for 2014.

“This is something we will take on from January of next year and it will look at existing projects as well as the design processes that we implement and ways to improve living conditions.

“As part of the programme we will be working on a number of new projects on incomplete freeways, partnering with the University of Cape Town to explore what we do with these. There is a real opportunity to highlight our efforts to improve the city and to promote Cape Town as an inclusive and caring city – which are two of the five pillars on which our whole city is based,” Cllr Herron explains.

Simultaneous to the efforts of the city, there is however a major challenge in the form of migration. Cllr Herron says that thousands of people migrate to Cape Town from the rural areas every year – which is putting enormous stress on service provision for the city.

“We have seen enormous growth in the population of the informal settlements and providing services like housing, water, sanitisation and power supply is an enormous pressure. We want to help these people and transform these areas into formal settlements with support; however there is often suspicion and resistance when we have to relocate these people in order to carry out the necessary upgrades.”

Cape Town continues to undergo change aimed at improving the lot of every culture. It is a long process, but the city is gradually seeing the fruits of its labour.

On a personal note, Cllr Herron retains his own hopes for the year ahead:

“My own aims are to oversee the implementation of the city’s vision for an integrated and enhanced public transport system and to see substantial progress with the refurbishment and regeneration of roads in disadvantaged areas, as we add road capacity.”

Cape Town is braced for an exciting 2014 and the City of Cape Town is building a road to a sustainable, strong economic future that embraces all races and cultures.