Sep 21

Cape Town – A Contemporary Tale Of Two Cities

An Article By Ian Kilbride.

Cape Town is the greatest city on Earth. Well, this is according to 30,000 Daily Telegraph readers, so it must be true. In achieving this remarkable award from some of the world’s most demanding and seasoned travellers, the Mother City beat other iconic cities such as Venice, Sydney, Vancouver and Rio de Janeiro. In addition to Table Mountain being one of the seven new natural wonders of the world, Camps Bay beach was voted 15th best in the world.  Perhaps less well known is that historically Cape Town has also been voted as the World’s Leading Festival and Events Destination, Africa’s Leading Meetings and Conference Destination and one of CNN’s Ten Most Loved Cities in the World. These are all accolades that the city and its citizens should not only be proud of, but more importantly, capitalise on in order to maximise the economic and developmental benefit of such recognition.

The great news is that Cape Town airport received some 1,4 million two-way international passengers between January and June this year, exceeding pre-pandemic numbers by 104% and growing 76% year on year. To be sure the city has benefited from the global post-Covid tourist bounce, but the weaker rand has made Cape Town a more affordable long-haul destination too. Of course, the weaker rand also tends to disincentivise South Africans travelling abroad and focuses attention on internal tourism. In this regard, Cape Town International Airport recorded some 3,2 million domestic two-way passengers between January and June this year. So, from the perspective of foreign and local visitors, Cape Town is getting a lot right.

But tourism alone is not sufficient to make and sustain Cape Town as a great city and when compared to other global and ‘middle income’ cities, the picture is less rosy. The PWC ‘Cities of Opportunities’ report paints a mixed picture of the city and one that poses more challenges than solutions. The study evaluates and ranks 31 cities across the world on 10 indicator groups and 66 variables. The indicator groups are worth noting, they are economic clout, ease of doing business, cost, city gateway, international capital and innovation, tech readiness, transportation and infrastructure, health & security, sustainability & environment and demography & liveability.

So how do we do? Rather badly is the answer. Cape Town came in the bottom quarter of the cities evaluated. With Kuala Lumpur, Moscow (pre-war), Shanghai and Mexico City ranking immediately above us. Unsurprisingly Cape Town scores above Johannesburg, and higher than Bogota, Sao Paulo, Rio de Janeiro, Mumbai, Jakarta and Lagos.

Unsurprisingly, Cape Town ranks a brilliant second place in terms of cost. The next highest score is surprising on the downside as we are only ranked Iin the middle of the pack in terms of sustainability and the natural environment. This is a wakeup call to the city, environmentalists, planners and residents that despite its natural beauty and much vaunted green credentials, the city has its work cut out to improve its environmental sustainability. No doubt the achievement of this will be challenged by the unplanned for influx of citizens from other regions and provinces, but this is a reality that must be faced and managed. Counterintuitively perhaps, Cape Town’s third highest score is on transport and infrastructure, so if the city can secure management control of the local PRASA network and rehabilitate the lines occupied and closed down during the Covid pandemic, no doubt it will rank even higher in future surveys.

While placing in the second half of the table for ease of doing business, Cape Town still places near the top of the middle-income cities. The Premier of the Western Cape, the Western Cape Minister of Finance and Economic Opportunities, together with the Mayor of Cape Town, are all pro-business and committed to easing regulatory red tape to boost the City’s competitiveness. So, we can expect a further improvement in this ranking, particularly if the shackles of restrictive national policy can be broken. This factor becomes critically important considering that Cape Town’s economic clout is ranked near the bottom of the table.

Where then do the City’s other problems lie? We tend to regard Cape Town as a modern, tech savvy hub that is ideally placed to be globally competitive, but today’s reality is that we rank second worst for tech readiness. The report notes some improvement in policy to enhance the City’s tech readiness, but frankly, this needs to become a main driver of the City’s comparative advantage and attractiveness if we are to cultivate and retain the remarkable talent coming out of our high-performing schools and world-class local universities.

But the City’s Achilles heel is revealed for all to see in its ranking of a lamentable second worst of all cities for demographics and liveability. And surely herein lies our challenge, the challenge of our city’s leadership, the challenge of business, the challenge of civil society, the challenge of planners, developers, builders and environmentalists, retailers, tourism and leisure operators, safety and security officers, teachers and pupils and that is to make our city liveable for all its citizens, particularly given the rapid demographics changes the Mother City is experiencing.

Mr Mayor, we need to talk!