Category Archives: Heritage

The Road to Hell is paved with Good Intentions

I was asked to join the board of directors of the Cape Winelands Biosphere Reserve (CWBR)  in July 2014.

An honour indeed; or so I thought.  This area encompasses one of the most beautiful regions anywhere in the world.  It embraces more opportunities than challenges.  It has — by virtue of its inhabitants, landowners and institutions — access to more brains, entrepreneurial spirit, drive and personal wealth than you’ll find almost anywhere in the world.

CWBR logo

I resigned from the board in August 2015, believing that I could not continue being part of a board of directors that was not providing any competent direction and oversight, and was not, in my opinion, meeting its legal responsibilities.

In my 13 months as a director, we never saw a single financial statement, even of the most rudimentary kind.  In January 2015, when management shortcomings became critical (because an AGM was scheduled for May 2015) a bookkeeper was appointed to prepare the books.  By August 2015, when I left, there was still nothing to show and AGMs planned for December 2015 and January 2016 never materialised, with difficulties in receiving an audit cited for the delays.  As far as I know, the CWBR Company received between R650,000 and R1 million in local government funding during 2015 and an unspecified amount from private & foreign donors.

Just before I joined the board, the CWBR had won six Green Flag awards from provincial premier Helen Zille.  When I was helping finalise the previous year’s Annual Report for publication, I needed to understand the projects the Biosphere was engaged in.  (The 2013/14 Annual Report was never published — Wessel Rabbets, the director responsible for the Company’s finances and administration, said it related to a period before he became a director and was therefore not interested in it.)

It became apparent to me that several of the Biosphere’s projects were not in fact projects at all, but were little more than a discussion or two over drinks.  They were certainly good ideas, but certainly not projects, and as such devalued the whole Green Flag project — a potential embarrassment.

This started a long debate on what is and what is not a project.  Eventually it was agreed that every Biosphere project needed to have its own business plan, with key performance indicators, and an income/expenditure budget that was approved by the board.

In my 13 months, the board never approved a single business plan, and it was not for want of asking.

When I joined the board, I also asked what the Company’s core business was.

Since it has no assets, no legislated authority and very few resources, surely the focus should be to inform, inspire and educate?  So surely its primary focus must be as a  marketing company?  I put this to the chairman who said he didn’t have time to respond and forwarded it to a CapeNature official.

This sort of proposition doesn’t go down well with people who see themselves as conservationists!

Eventually the board agreed to hold a Strategic Planning session — in December 2014.  It was facilitated by Wessel Rabbets, the director responsible for the Company’s finances and administration.  The following was agreed to by the board:

Vision
To innovatively achieve a balance between human development and nature in the Cape Winelands Biosphere Reserve.

Mission
To achieve our vision by:

  • Starting Conversations;
  • Influencing Decision Makers;
  • Inspire, Inform & Educate Open Society; and
  • Promoting Best Practice.

The Strategic Plan was never completed (during my tenure) but there was enough in it to motivate for the appointment of a Marketing/Communications/Fundraising/Membership manager to support Mark Heistein, the CEO and only person on the payroll (after Heidi Muller resigned from the board and as a marketing consultant).

Since the chairman felt that a secretary could fulfill these functions, I was asked to prepare a job description, which I did.  The only director to respond felt that this would be usurping the CEO’s role.

It was apparent that the other directors didn’t have a clue about the resources the company needed, which was completely unfair on the CEO.  Just too much was being expected of him.  From before I even joined the board and repeatedly since, Mark  made it clear that he knows nothing about marketing and his formal communication skills are lacking.

My patience with Wessel Rabbets snapped in the middle of 2015.  Apart from rarely attending board meetings, he had at the outset promised clean and effective administration and financial management — which I don’t believe he delivered on.  I believe he should have been replaced, a view the chairman and CEO were well aware of.

There were requests from one creditor for payment which dragged on for almost a year.  Another, after asking for goods purchased to be returned, resorted to appealing to a related organisation asking them to pay CWBR’s bill.  It was only after appealing to the chairman that they did get paid, and only after responses from the CEO saying that the matter “had been sorted”, when it clearly had not been.

In January 2016 when I started putting down notes for this story, I went to see if there was any new “News” on CWBR’s website.  It was offline for non-payment of the annual domain registration fee.  The domain (capewinelandsbiosphere.co.za) was terminated at the end of February and, as of the morning of March 2, is available to anybody on a first-come first-served basis!

I hope they get their website sorted out soon so they can publish their 2014/15 Annual Report and financial statements.

In the Chairman’s Report of the incomplete 2014/15 Annual Report that I saw in May 2015, there was an implied criticism of my marketing portfolio: “Very little of our achievements has reached the news media.”  The fact is that CWBR achieved very little during the 2014/15 financial year.

And when around 6,000 trees were planted in the following financial year outside Stellenbosch, it was impossible to plan any PR around the event.  Even the chairman expressed dismay that he hadn’t been asked to speak at a function to announce the event.

Do the Winelands Biosphere’s achievements pass the “So what” test when so many achievements elsewhere are taking place?

The Cape Wine Auction, held for the second time in 2016, raises funds for education in the winelands.  In 2015 it raised R10 million; in 2016 it was R15 million.

At Platbos Forest Reserve, Africa’s Southernmost Forest near Gansbaai, you’ll find an indigenous forest with trees that are over 1000 years old.  Platbos is not reliant on any local government funding but lots of individual donors and volunteers: they’ve planted 30,204 new trees as of February 2016!

At Boschendal Estate, which is under new ownership, 120,000 fruit trees were planted last year and by July 2017 they will have planted 450,000 new trees!

I was asked to tackle three tasks as a paid consultant after I resigned.  One was cancelled half way through and CWBR was billed for costs to that point.  One, a business plan, was completed and submitted, and paid for.  When I asked some time later whether they were proceeding with it, I was flabbergasted to be told by the chairman that it was not what they wanted.  Surely one engages with someone to make sure you get what you paid for?  I had followed the CEO’s brief.  Will CWBR’s 2015/16 audit show these items as fruitless and wasteful expenditure?

*****

So what’s the point of this story?  One goes through all sorts of experiences in life and if one doesn’t learn from them, they will have been little more than a waste of time.

It’s clear in my mind that the CWBR company simply doesn’t work.  So I hope this story will stir debate.

When I asked “Who owns the CWBR company?” I was told that the directors do.  Does this mean that they are answerable only to themselves?  Surely this needs to be reviewed?

NGOs like the CWBR cannot be an old boys’ club or mutual admiration society.  They need to have a far wider constituency.  Local government funding should only kick in after the company has (say) 500 or 1000 members, preferably paid-up and contributing to the organisation’s costs.  They should be member-based organisations where members have a sense of ownership and benefit.

Paid-up members will hold the company more accountable and will introduce a far better dynamic when it comes to appointing directors.  At present, the CEO’s suggestions for new board members are usually endorsed by the board.  Strengthening the board must be a priority.

Since the CWBR started receiving provincial government funding in the middle of 2015, more onerous reporting has been required by the Department of Environmental Affairs and Development Planning (DEADP) (which oversees biosphere reserves in the Western Cape).  Better reporting is a good thing, but mindless bureaucratic formats — where meetings attended count more than achievements — will chase any competent director away.  Bureaucracy trumps Vision at the DEADP as far as biosphere reserves are concerned.

Why Cape Town is surfing the crest of a wave

In 1990, while I was part of the V&A Waterfront team, I bought an international travel magazine. There was a story on Barcelona’s renaissance after the end of Spain’s dictatorship. With events then starting to unfold in South Africa, I wondered if the same could happen in Cape Town.

Although there have been scores of accolades for the city since democracy in 1994, most of these have been from the city’s traditional markets with limited global awareness. Probably one of the most important accolades came from Parliament itself with this note from the Speaker of Parliament, Baleka Mbete: “On 25 October 2007, the National Assembly of South Africa agreed to a motion, noting that Cape Town was ranked the best city out of the country’s 283 municipalities.
The House further noted that the city won this award because of the way in which the municipality dealt with poverty, the level of access to basic services, its economic activity and infrastructure and because its citizens are well qualified.
The House recalled that in July [2006] Cape Town was ranked by USA’s Travel & Leisure magazine as the number one city in Africa and the Middle East and claimed tenth spot in the “best city in the world” category.
The National Assembly congratulates both the city administration and the residents of Cape Town on making it a world class city and a top tourist destination.”

TripAdvisor Traveller's ChoiceCape Town’s international profile received a major boost when, in 1997, it bid for the 2004 Olympics and made it through to the final three cities. Here, and with events like the Argus Cycle Tour, the city has repeatedly demonstrated its capacity and capability.

But it was TripAdvisor’s World’s Best Destination 2011 that almost took everybody by surprise. Was this one of the benefits of hosting the 2010 World Cup? Will it remain in the top 5 or was this a fluke showing? Cape Town’s ranking next year will be an indication.

World Design Capital 2014The latest achievement, and the first since the Olympic Bid to demonstrate a wider footprint that embraces Cape Town’s poorer areas, was making the three-city shortlist out of the 54 entries from 27 countries for World Design Capital 2014. (Read the full story here.) This is also, as far as I know, the first international bid out of South Africa where the Mandela-factor hasn’t been a trump card.

So what are the reasons for Cape Town’s success — accepting that God-given natural beauty isn’t the only reason? What does Cape Town owe its renaissance to? One of the reasons for the V&A Waterfront’s success has always been given as timing – the end of apartheid and SA’s isolation.

Institutional interventions
Timing must again be one of the reasons, but institutional interventions without bureaucratic control must surely be another? It is these institutions that have contributed more to Cape Town’s heritage and vitality than anything else. One of the first, if not the first, is the Cape Town Heritage Trust, established in 1987.

Cape Town Heritage Trust

The Cape Town Heritage Trust is an independent, private-sector, non-profit organisation which conserves the architectural, cultural and natural heritage of Cape Town and environs for the benefit of the inhabitants of the City and of the nation at large. The Trust was established in 1987 by the Cape Town City Council with the backing of the Cape Provincial Administration. A number of buildings in Shortmarket and Hout Streets, originally acquired for road-widening purposes, were donated to the Trust.

CITI

Cape Information Technology Initiative, a non-profit organisation established in 1998, develops & supports the information & communications technology cluster in the Western Cape.

There have been many initiatives — too many to mention here — some driven by local government but most by the private sector with local government support. This is a major reason for the growth and strength of Cape Town’s knowledge economy.

Those agencies that still kowtow to the politicians — like the provincial tourism agency — have never enjoyed the same level of success.

Looking at the reasons for Cape Town’s success, deputy mayor Ian Neilson, quotes Richard Florida, author of The Rise of the Creative Class and Who’s Your City?, who lists five required success factors:

  • aesthetics
  • civic leadership
  • safety – physical & economic
  • acceptance of diversity
  • effective legislation

“These factors define the cities that people want to live in,” he says, “and I think Cape Town does fairly well in all respects. We’ve concentrated on creating platforms for effective institutions and enabling effective legislation — to facilitate rather than control.”

Desirable cities and towns always attract the most creative and entrepreneurial people.

There’s little doubt that Helen Zille’s award as World’s Best Mayor in 2008 helps the city’s credibility. In a competition where public comments and votes do count, Capetonians made themselves heard.

Cape Town Partnership

The Cape Town Partnership, launched in 1999, is a collaboration between the public & private sectors working together to develop, promote & manage Cape Town Central City.

Consumer activism

Theodore Yach, who chairs the Cape Town Heritage Trust and is a member of the Central City Improvement District, says consumer activism is one of the reasons for Cape Town’s success. “People have started realising that it’s not just the city administration that needs to take responsibility. There are now about 40 City Improvement Districts (CIDs) around the city, and what’s happening there is a fantastic story. In the CBD alone, there’s been an explosion in value of ten times since 2000! That’s unheard of!”

While the CTP and its CIDs are excellent examples of consumer activism, a much earlier example needs to be mentioned. Gabriel Fagan and the late Victor Holloway conceived the idea for the redevelopment of the V&A Waterfront in 1970s and, after Holloway’s death in 1983, Fagan continued lobbying for this.

Creative Cape Town - Imagine City Hall

Creative Cape Town, a programme of the Cape Town Partnership established in 2006, communicates, supports and facilitates the development of the creative & knowledge economy in the Central City of Cape Town. Imagine City Hall is a citizen activation programme: its aim is to draw support for the development of the Cape Town City Hall as a dedicated cultural venue.

Then a group of waterfront enthusiasts, supported by then-mayor Sol Kreiner, managed to get permission from the port authorities to host the Pierhead Festival in 1985 – the first time widespread public access was allowed to the docks since the Suez Crisis in the 1960s! It was a resounding success and organising committee chair, Harold Gorvy, asked for a meeting with the ministers of transport and tourism to ask for the redevelopment of the area. They agreed and a committee under the chairmanship of Arie Burggraaf was announced the following year, resulting in the formation of the V&A Waterfront company. (I bumped into Hendrik Schoeman, the transport minister who took the decision, at the Waterfront in the mid-1990s just before his suicide. He remarked, sadly, that no-one would remember the roles played by the early lobbyists — consumer activists? — or the breakthrough decision he took to get it all started.)

Victor Holloway must also be credited with saving the Lutheran Church complex at the top of Strand Street. While arts editor of Die Burger, he published a superimposed photo of the area showing the proposed elevated freeway. The proposal was dropped after a public outcry. Cape Town is renown for its vocal citizens.

  • Citizen and consumer activism — taking action and responsibility — is the lifeblood of successful cities and towns.

Character of Capetonians
And then there is the character of Capetonians – more educated, creative, entrepreneurial and lifestyle-focused than citizens of most other cities.

Capetonians take ownership of their city more than one finds elsewhere in South Africa. Mornings and evenings, streets are filled with people walking (with or without dogs), jogging or cycling. That’s a rarity in other metropolitan areas.

Except for the brief period under Nomaindia Mfeketo’s mayoralty, when the city council approached a total meltdown, Cape Town has had strong and effective local government. Equally strong were the media and bodies like the Cape Institute of Architects, which engaged the council rigorously.

When the late Revel Fox (a prominent architect) was elected city councillor after the first democratic local government elections, he became chair of the important Town Planning Committee. Every meeting started an hour earlier for rookie councillors, when Revel took them through the agenda and the implications of the decisions they would be required to make.

Cape Town has grown up. Through recent projects as diverse as the Cape Town International Convention Centre (CTICC) and the Cape Town Jazz Festival — and their capable management — it has shown that it competes on a world stage. The city’s hotels, restaurants and airport are all top-ranked in the world. Democracy did open the doors and the new constitution ended the era of conservativism. So, looking back, Cape Town did follow in Barcelona’s footsteps.

But is everything rosy? Not quite. The acclaimed Cape Town Partnership and its CIDs are not a solution for all Capetonians. Their mission still reads “for the central city” although there is now a CID in Athlone’s regional centre — the CID model only works where there is commercial property management who can afford to top up the municipality’s expenditure and efforts. It only works in affluent areas so it’s not a city-wide solution.

(Unfortunately, Andrew Boraine — CTP’s CEO — is as bad at returning phone calls as he’s always been… since his time as city manager, so I couldn’t get his comments on this or on Cape Town’s renaissance.)

And the city’s marketing is still trying to catch up with its mandate. Cape Town Tourism (CTT) has been talking about the Cape Town brand for five years and it’s three years since it was mandated by the City as custodian of Cape Town’s brand. The process has followed a long road of consultation and inclusiveness, rather than inspired and inspiring leadership. If one follows Twitter, the ‘eats’ at the last meeting were outstanding, as was the enthusiasm for something which can only be described as a clone of Pick n Pay’s tagline. (CTT previously appropriated New York City’s famous signature I ♥ NY for its Facebook page, I ♥ Cape Town. As veteran marketing commentator Chris Moerdyk remarked during the preparation of a related story*, anyone who uses NY’s signature phrase will always be regarded as a copycat.)

CTT has announced that its new brand positioning of Inspiration rolls out from July 1 with new creatives, images and productions on the Discovery and National Geographic channels for example. But will this address the domestic market — the mainstay of all tourism?

After extensive research, the national department of tourism has found that they will get far more bang for their buck by growing domestic tourism, and this is where they and all their agencies are focussing their attention.

Cape Town desperately needs to change perceptions nationally that it is not an enclave of white privilege and that it is welcoming to all visitors. Surely the DA needs that too for further gains at the polls.

Related content: Why is Cape Town special?

More on the CID model
Since its establishment in November 2000, the CCID has become an internationally acclaimed model of public-private partnership between property owners and businesses, supported by the City Council. The formation of the CCID was a significant event for Cape Town, because it was the first major city in South Africa to implement a fully constituted, legally bound Improvement District covering the entire core of the Central City. Property owners have contributed more than R150 million to the rejuvenation of the Central City during the past eight years.

A Central Improvement District (CID) is a precisely defined geographical area, approved by the City Council in terms of the Municipal Property Rates Act, Section 22 (Special Rates Area) and the CID bylaw – to provide complementary services in that area.

To address the stated requirements of property owners, 51% of the CCID’s annual budget is spent on security, approximately 22% on cleansing, 3% on social development and 11% on communications and marketing. The remainder of the budget goes towards operational and administrative costs of the CCID.

The CCID offers safety and security, urban management, social development and marketing services.

* The comment was published on CapeInfo along with the most successful destination brands to have come out of the city. I’m trying to find it in the archives which weren’t transferred to the new content management system.

Can New York City learn from Cape Town?

It’s impossible to be unaware of the debate and tensions in New York City over a proposed mosque near the site of the 911 terror attacks. Maybe Americans are missing the point and could learn from Cape Town.

The Ring of Islam or Circle of Saints
For Muslim faithfuls, Cape Town is one of the better places to live, surrounded as it is by a protective ring of kramats — the burial sites of holy men or Auliyah – “friends of Islam”. They believe that anyone living within this circle will be protected from natural disasters such as floods, earthquakes and hurricanes.

(If only terrorist acts could be added to that list.)

The circle starts at Signal Hill, continues to the site at Oudekraal, through Klein Constantia Estate and further east to Cape Town’s most famous kramat – that of Sheikh Yusuf at Faure on the Cape Flats. The tomb of Tuan Matarah on Robben Island is the final one completing the circle.

Unlike mosques, kramats are open to both male and female visitors of all faiths. Generally, they are never locked.

This is part of what makes Cape Town special. Now if I was NYC’s mayor Bloomberg, I’d encourage as many religious groups as possible to erect holy sites all over my city. It might just make it a safer place.