Interview: Helen Zille
Do you feel that some provinces seem to be performing better than others?
HELEN ZILLE: Most certainly, in the case of the Western Cape, there are historic and external factors which place us at an advantage. For example, we have unique and strong tourism offerings, which allow tourism to form a key pillar of our economy. This was boosted further through the exposure of hosting the World Cup.
But I like to think we have also had our particular success versus other areas because of our strong brand of governance. To ensure that as a government we are fulfilling our functions properly, we have attempted to get rid of corruption and have worked to encourage people to start paying their debts. This has instilled a strong sense of public confidence, which in my opinion forms the root of long-term stability and investment. Given the level of confidence held locally and internationally towards the province, more investments and people have started flowing to the Western Cape.
Small and medium-sized enterprises, which form a significant part of any economy, have flourished through an open, fair and rational government procurement system. We have broken up contracts into smaller units to make it more viable for smaller companies to win business. Every tender and contract has been advertised widely and made available to everyone. Contracts are also being judged objectively based on the ability to deliver, rather than on political patronage.
How can Cape Town work to attract more skilled workers into niche industries?
ZILLE: As technology and related equipment such as laptops, smartphones and tablets increasingly enable people to perform jobs remotely, distances become less crucial and people can be more selective in where they pursue their careers. If you can choose where you live, which is often the case with knowledge and creative workers, you will choose to live in a place you like and it happens a lot of people like Cape Town. Cape Town’s appeal as a place to visit helps tremendously, but this would not result in much if overall infrastructure was lacking, if there were no services like clean water and rubbish removal, or if crime was out of control. Many factors have to be in place to convert Cape Town from just being a nice place to visit into a nice place to relocate to and pursue a career.
What can be done to mitigate the decline in the Western Cape’s manufacturing sector?
ZILLE: When it comes to manufacturing, we are redefining our niches. Where we once pursued mass production at low cost, we are today moving towards greater specialisation in value-added products. For example, we are seeing a resurgence and rejuvenation in our textiles industry at the more creative end of the market, with Cape Town taking off as Africa’s centre for design and fashion. Similarly, we are doing quite strongly in the export of furniture, machinery and transport equipment at the high end of the market, as well as in the manufacture of downstream value-added petrochemicals products such as plastics and rubbers.
How do you plan to develop resources while safeguarding the local environment?
ZILLE: Oil and gas has always been important to the province, and will be boosted by further gas finds off the western coast. We continue to see growth and move up the value chain in agriculture, forestry and fishing, as we are a largely fertile and coastal province.
Economic growth will always have environmental consequences, and one has to manage this properly and strike the right balance. Take, for example, fracking in the Karoo, which has become a huge issue. On every side of the debate one hears rigourous and different arguments. We have to find a way to protect the Karoo’s unique ecosystem while at the same time enabling developments that can create huge job numbers down the line. We have no intention nor any need to turn the Karoo into an industrial wasteland, and are ready to both hear and address stakeholder concerns.
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