No more crime and grime

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Cape Town is garnering accolades by the score nowadays, from World Design Capital 2014 to The New York Times’ “number one place to visit”. We speak to Bulelwa Makalima-Ngewana, chief executive of the Cape Town Partnership, about what the Mother City is getting right.

Partnerships are often the best way to solve challenges, especially those faced by growing cities. A great case in point is the Cape Town Partnership, which was formed in 1999.

Cape Town Partnership (CTP) has been at the forefront of a number of initiatives that have seen the city transformed into a more vibrant, dynamic and safer place.

Bulelwa Makalima-Ngewana, chief executive officer of Cape Town Partnership, points to the fact that Cape Town has been named World Design Capital 2014 as an example of the regard in which the city is held around the world.

She was there when the selection took place and says it was “quite a tense moment. We all wanted it. All three cities were desperate for it. Spain wanted it desperately for their economy, and with the Irish it was the same thing. It’s quite tricky to understand why Cape Town got it, when you compare our architecture to that of Bilbao, for example, with their Guggenheim Museum and very serious attention-to-detail architecture, which goes back centuries.

“When we bid as Cape Town, we decided to bid from our perspective. It needed to be relevant for a city in Africa, a city in South Africa in particular. We chose to look at it as a transformative process, to
look at transformative design, to look at what the future can be through design, rather than what the past has been,” says Makalima-Ngewana.

No more crime and grime

She says many of the country’s downtown centres were in decline at the time of democracy in 1994. Cape Town was no exception.

“The CBD really started going toward crime and grime. What happened was there was a conversation between the City of Cape Town and the property owners within the CBD, and the question was: what do we do to rescue this? It was decided to form a partnership to help solve the challenges faced,” she says.
CTP gets backing from a City Council grant, which is balanced with project funding from various project sources such as property owners and various private sector bodies.

“Right now we have managed to reduce the grant from being 100% of the grant we were getting from them to being 40% of our income in terms of our operating costs,” says Makalima-Ngewana.

She has been working for CTP for the past 10 years and is trained as a town planner. “When I came on board, it was like going back to my profession because for a while I hadn’t been focusing on town planning issues. I just grew in from my position as a programme manager, to eventually becoming CEO – taking over from Andrew Boraine, who has now moved on to head up the (Western Cape) Economic Development Partnership.”

She says Cape Town is “a relevant city, on a relevant continent with a relevant narrative to put forward to the world. The thing about design is that creativity seems to come through when there is a lack. When you have a lack of resources, you find solutions through design, and you find a way forward.

“There are many, many solutions that have been found in Africa and in South Africa. However, they have no way to compete globally because there is no platform to showcase them”.

Departing talent

Makalima-Ngewana decries the fact that so many talented people cut their teeth in Cape Town and then leave the city.

“People believe you can’t start a creative career in Cape Town and that you have to go to Joburg for that. So now we are able to retain that young talent and we are able to have more and more creative business. In the city centre alone, we have over 1 500 creative businesses,” she says.

“They have chosen to locate here because its space allows them to earn a living. Being the World Design Capital, we can attract even more of that kind of business. We talk about job creation and entrepreneurship as strategy, and creatives themselves are the best entrepreneurs,” adds Makalima-Ngewana.

She goes on to say that CTP is soon to launch an app that will allow people visiting the city to find these businesses without looking around and connecting through the Internet.

“That already is a huge plus. We are now able to showcase Cape Town talents and products, and we are creating a market for them. I think we are starting to get the serious consideration that is due to us. We’ve always been seen as a place or a city to come for a holiday, not to do business.”

Makalima-Ngewana says when people talk about tourists coming to Cape Town, they are referring mostly to people from Europe and the United States.

“We always miss the obvious: our neighbours up country, like Zambia, Tanzania, Uganda, Ethiopia, Somalia and Nigeria, which is much bigger than South Africa. What are we doing to attract them to
become part of Africa?

“There was a very famous speech by Dr Martin Luther King, in which he said ‘I have a dream’. Well, I have a dream of the United States of Africa. Can that ever be?”

Asked if she thinks people in Cape Town are snobbish or cliquey, she says: “Cape Town has less social bridges than Joburg does. In other words, it’s easier to get to know people in smaller circles, but it’s difficult to cross the bridge and know other circles – but in Joburg, it happens automatically. You end up with small concentric circles who know each other very well.”

Cape Town, she says, gained much from the 2010 FIFA World Cup. “What had been seen as a 10-year strategy, we were able to achieve in four years. For example, pedestrian bridges, which we had been wanting for years, were finally built.

Road in the sky

And the notorious highway in the sky in the city centre? Makalima-Ngewana feels it should remain as it is.

“If I had anything to do with it, I would leave it unfinished. It’s the narrative of Cape Town. Why should we finish it? It’s fantastic to see that in Cape Town we are able to publicly display our mistakes.

“So why finish the freeway? You can turn it into a restaurant, or you can turn it into a highline, like in New York. We’ve done something quite weird in Cape Town: we’ve choked our city and cut ourselves off from the sea. We are in the centre of the city, and you don’t look at the sea and you can’t get to it.”
As for recent talk about a cruise liner terminal as part of a multibillion-rand upgrade to Cape Town harbour, Makalima-Ngewana says she believes this will come to fruition one day.

When it comes to competing with other cities, she says Cape Town should do this on its own terms, as it did with the World Design Capital bid.

“Quite frankly, the world is looking for new narrative around design.” Cape Town, she adds, represents a potjiekos of cultures. “We need to reflect that in terms of our city. And when you talk about Cape Town cuisine, it can’t be just one dish; it must be dishes from many cultures that find themselves here.”
As for CTP, she believes the organisation has been successful in rescuing the CBD, and transforming it into what it is today.

“Our strategy is to put people first, to have a city that reflects the culture of its own people and provides the lifestyle and reception that ordinary Capetonians would expect from their own city.
“We’re trying very hard to say, ‘Capetonians, we need to be able to create with you the kind of city you want to see’. It’s not enough to just be liveable – we also have to be lovable as a city.”

Tony Sanderson and David Capel

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Issue 29


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