Cape Town is without question one of the most beautiful cities in the world. As a result we have managed to attract increasing numbers of international tourists who bring dollars, pounds and yen to the city. Businesses and residents have moved back into the city centre, spending billions on making it even more beautiful. Yet the beauty that is possibly our greatest asset is also our biggest problem, because it makes us complacent. We seem to think that people will always want to come to this town on the southern fringes of the African continent. Why wouldn't they?
Our current reality in the Cape has been described in a scenario planning exercise conducted by Accelerate Cape Town as "Southern Comfort". This is something akin to the early days of the south eastern states of America, where the few live in grand style and great comfort, while the many struggle to eke out a living and suffer great hardship, oblivious to the natural beauty that surrounds them. The Southern Comfort scenario, the world we Capetonians live in today, is unsustainable because behind the cranes, the scaffolding and the gleaming new buildings lie insidious problems that threaten to derail us if we do not address them.
Firstly, the rest of South Africa does not take us seriously. In fact, legislators and officials from over the mountains who must come to parliament for a period of time are known to talk of being "sent to Siberia". This is largely because the Cape is seen as an unwelcoming place, especially for black Africans. It is seen as being out of the mainstream, a quiet backwater where nothing happens and the people are parochial and arrogant. We talk of the Mother City as if we gave birth to the rest of the nation and they owe us a debt of gratitude for it. This negative image means that it is increasingly difficult to attract and retain business and talent, and we are losing traditionally Cape-based businesses.
Over the past twelve years the Cape has also experienced enough different city and provincial governments to make our heads spin, and it may not be over yet. The city is ruled by a coalition that is under constant threat of being ripped apart, and September's floor-crossing period is looming large. The province is ruled by a party that consists of opposing factions that make little effort to disguise their disdain for one another. And to top it all off, the city and the province are ruled by opposing political parties. The result is that the inequality that besets the city and the potential for discontent, racial tension, crime and social unrest have increased steadily. In a recent strategic workshop organised by Accelerate Cape Town, Clem Sunter made the statement that "Cape Town is surrounded by a ring of fire," meaning that the gleaming city in the tourist brochures is surrounding by townships characterised by poverty, unemployment and frustration. This threatens to boil over into the kind of social unrest that was experienced in Paris last year.
What is worse than the lack of stable political leadership of the region and the short-term priorities of that leadership, however, is the complacency that Capetonians have shown while we wait for someone else to sort it all out for us. It is time for us to stop waiting and expecting "them", whoever "they" might be, to tell us where we are going. Capetonians as a community must develop a long-term vision of what we want the city and the region to become. We must paint a picture of a bright future that all of our children and grandchildren will be proud to be a part of, where leaving because you feel left out of the international arena would be unthinkable. Only by holding a picture in our collective minds of what we want to become do we stand any hope of getting there.
Let me take the liberty of laying on the table my view of what we can become over the next 20 years, so that we can start putting this picture together. I call the scenario of a bright future, a future that is as good as it gets for Cape Town, the "Southern Tiger".
Like the economies of the Asian Tigers such as South Korea and Taiwan, and more recently Ireland's Celtic Tiger, the Cape as the Southern Tiger is characterised by high growth of 8% and more, along with a dramatic rise in job creation and the development of thousands of new small businesses. The people of the region, recognising our diversity and the creativity that that brings, are united by a common identity. We have let go of those traditional industries that are slipping away and we have reinvented and re-branded ourselves as the world's creative capital; a region that is self-confident, that understands its own uniqueness and that focuses on areas that cannot easily be replicated by China.
The schools, universities and training institutions of the Southern Tiger are known internationally for producing top quality designers, artisans, software developers, engineers, doctors, teachers, artists and other world class professionals. These young people choose to stay and start their own businesses in the Cape, because they know that the world comes here to find the best creative minds and the most innovative solutions to problems, and because bigger businesses have a policy to share their work with small partners.
Films are made with Cape Town as a location in its own right, not pretending to be somewhere else. Love songs are written about the place, just as they used to be about Rio. Alongside New Orleans and Havana, Cape Town is considered a home of jazz, and a hundred jazz clubs attract people from every corner of the globe. The region is renowned as a sporting destination, with foreign teams basing their training camps here and the city playing host to international events like the Commonwealth Games. International conferences and exhibitions with 20,000 delegates and more are a common feature.
Cruise ships make regular use of the world-class cruise ship terminal at the Waterfront. Day-sailing between the small harbours around the coast rivals that of the Mediterranean, bringing opportunities to communities that no longer rely on fishing and poaching. Boat building and repairs, particularly focussed on servicing the enormous oil fields of West Africa, are considered world class, thanks to the large numbers of skilled and semi-skilled artisans available in the Cape.
The Southern Tiger has developed strong and sustainable partnerships with other powerful regions of the world. This includes the Middle East, where Arab investors view the Cape as a Muslim-friendly destination, where they can put their money into projects ranging from tourism and call centres to green energy and horse breeding. Capetonians are globally-minded Africans, we see the world as our marketplace and we are continuously looking ahead, with a passion for improvement and innovation. At the same time we are acutely aware of the need to protect and promote our natural environment, bring all our people along on the road to economic success and remain focused on our goal to sustain and improve upon our great achievements. Our citizens are educated, healthy and live in safe and comfortable neighbourhoods.
I could go on about how good it can be for Cape Town within 20 years, but before I lose those people who have a natural tendency to point out what we can't achieve and why we shouldn't even try, let me deal with the alternative scenario. This is what will happen if we continue to wallow in our complacency and believe that we can keep living in Southern Comfort. I call this scenario the "Sinking Island". This is characterised by relatively low growth that is just enough for those who already have to have some more, while those who don't have just deteriorate further. Many more turn to drink, drugs and crime.
Businesses that have always been Cape based first move their customer-facing staff North, followed eventually by their back offices as the leadership increasingly perceives that Capetonians have no drive to succeed and that their work ethic is pitiful. The vast majority of the talented young people emerging from the educational institutions have one goal in mind - to get out of Cape Town as soon as they graduate and go somewhere where people care. The Sinking Island's schools, universities and training colleges produce ever decreasing numbers of graduates, most of whom are essentially unemployable because they have not been given the essential skills to succeed in the modern world.
There is no long-term vision and very little organisation or co-ordination, as the unstable city and provincial governments fight to survive from one crisis to another. Corruption and tender irregularities are rife. Pollution from inefficient industries and aging vehicles fills the sky as traffic jams clog up the potholed roads. Slums of millions of people dominate the region, gangs rule the streets of the CBD and inter-racial violence is commonplace. Hawkers just trying to survive dominate the sidewalks from Century City to the Waterfront. Once-grand properties can be snapped up for next to nothing, as most of their owners have left.
The region has become increasingly ignored by the rest of the country and the rest of the world. After Parliament moved to Pretoria, national government largely gave up hope for the Cape. Cape Town is an interesting place to visit because of its imposing mountain, even though Capetonians have largely destroyed the environment, but those brave enough to come are struck by what was once a beautiful city with great potential. The overwhelming impression is of an isolated island, cut off from the rest of the world and sinking slowly and sadly into the two oceans that surround it.
Which do we choose?
The Sinking Island is not a pretty picture, but it is also not far fetched, especially if we believe we can carry on as we are today. Other cities around the world have gone this route; we would not be the first. By the same token, the Southern Tiger is not at all far fetched either. We have very few binding constraints that make it fundamentally impossible to achieve. It is up to us to choose which of the two we would rather have. If we choose the Southern Tiger, we need to set to work to create that future right now.
The first thing we must do to become the Southern Tiger is change our attitude. We need to light a fire under this city and create a buzz that is palpable as we walk through the streets. Visitors must be struck by how focused we are on what we want to achieve, by how globally orientated we are and by how innovative we are in creating growth opportunities for everyone in the region.
We also need an image makeover. Talented young people must feel that they are welcome here and that they too have a part to play in creating the Southern Tiger. We must be seen as people who think big, who are self-confident about what we aim to achieve and who accept change rather than rushing to court to apply for an injunction whenever a grand new plan is tabled.
Finally, and most importantly, we need to join hands to define what it is we hope to become and how we aim to get there, in particular which industries and areas of economic growth we are going to focus on over the next 20 years. We must create a common goal, a common identity and a common excitement about the future. That way we will pull together the combined efforts of the city, the province, the private sector, national government, parastatals, educational institutions, labour, environmental groups, the media and communities.
All of these parties and others will then set about creating the enabling environment we need in order to create the future we want rather than the future that seems inevitable if we choose to do nothing.
Guy Lundy is a futurist and the CEO of Accelerate Cape Town, a private sector initiative aimed at bringing together stakeholders in the Cape region to develop and implement a long-term vision for sustainable, inclusive economic growth. He writes in his personal capacity.