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Interview: Mansoor Mohamed

Mansoor Mohamed
City Hall City Hall
City HallWhen the Central Library moves to the Drill Hall later this year, the City Hall will be renovated into a “world-class concert and music venue,” says Fritz Marx, the City’s Manager: Protocol and Mayoral Events.
The building’s Great Hall is one of the finest venues for acoustic music in the country, and home to the Cape Philharmonic Orchestra, successor to a long line of municipal orchestras (the first was formed in 1914). It is also home to the Cape Philharmonic Orchestra’s Youth Orchestra and the Cape Organ Guild.
Management of the City Hall has been transferred from the City to a new Section 21 non-profit company. The City, the Cape Town Partnership and the Cape Town Heritage Trust will all be members. An advisory board will be set up to oversee the running of the City Hall, which will include stakeholders from the City, the tourism sector and the music industry.
The new company is planning to raise around R40-million for the restoration and renovation of the Hall, says Laura Robinson, Director of the Cape Town Heritage Trust. The company will raise the funds from donors and bank loans, and will service the debt and run the hall on the proceeds from performances and other supporting services. Any profits made will be ploughed back into improvements for the Hall.
When the Central Library moves, other City functions such as the Traffic Court will also be moved to new accommodation, and the City Hall will become purely a cultural venue. Andrew Boraine, chief executive of the Cape Town Partnership, says the City Hall will become a centre for performance, participation, experience and learning of traditional, indigenous, contemporary and classical music.
“The City Hall should be a music centre to cater for all the people of Cape Town’s music tastes. We will achieve this by establishing a sustainable cultural centre for the city of Cape Town with an emphasis on the promotion of acoustic music, including performances venues, rehearsal space and supporting services.”
The final plans for renovation and the eventual uses of the City Hall are still being finalised, says Laura Robinson, and there will be several public participation processes before any final decisions are taken.

Old Drill Hall
Drill HallThe Central Library, the City’s flagship library, is being moved from the City Hall to new facilities at the Drill Hall and opens in late July.
This project is in part possible due to a $2-million (about R12,5-million) grant from the New York-based Carnegie Corporation. The Carnegie Corporation is one of seven trusts that manage the legacy of American billionaire iron and steel tycoon Andrew Carnegie, who died in 1919.
One of Carnegie's lifelong interests was the establishment of free public libraries, and during his life he donated more than $56-million to build 2,509 libraries throughout the world, many of which are still in operation.
The Central Library issues over 100,000 non-fiction works and close to 67,000 works of fiction annually, specialising in Africana – works about Africa or written by Africans. It also holds a remarkable collection of Africana other than books, ranging from art to film.
The new facilities will provide far more scope to display what is “probably the biggest public collection of Africana in the country,” according to Heinrich Heymann, the City’s project director for the Drill Hall.
The new library will also have a ‘Centre for Excellence’, with 40 ‘Smart City’ PC workstations to provide the public with free internet access and other computer-related services. A library for all: The conversion of the old Drill Hall into a new state-of-the-art flagship library is almost complete.

Global competitiveness is central to the sustainable development of any city. Meet executive director Mansoor Mohamed, whose responsibility it is to ensure that Cape Town is an enabling environment for all businesses to thrive in.

(Interview courtesy of CONTACT, City of Cape Town. Written by Greig Stewart.)

To help make Cape Town a more attractive place to do business, it makes sense to appoint a business person to manage and direct that process. And that’s exactly what the City has done.

Before joining the City as Executive Director: Economic, Social Development and Tourism, Mansoor Mohamed worked on the ‘other side of the table’ – building up and selling successful enterprises.

He’s certainly been through the ups and downs of entrepreneurship. After qualifying as a chartered accountant, Mansoor moved to the UK while working for Old Mutual. He decided that the cut-and-thrust of business would be a more rewarding career, and opened a recycling franchise company in London.

Initially he thought he’d bitten off more than he could chew, but got through the teething problems and turned his franchise into one of the most successful in the country. That taught him a lot about support and mentorship (franchises provide their franchisees with systems and expertise), lessons he is keen to apply to the City’s business support systems.

Talking the talk
It also taught him about the value of communication, and when he became bored with the franchise he promptly set about something quite different; the development and manufacture of a phone for making voice calls over the Internet using voice-over-internet-protocol, or VOIP (‘Skype’ is the best-known system).

His slim, lightweight ‘purelyvoip’ handset is easier to use than a headphone-and-microphone system, but getting it from an idea into a working product was quite a challenge. “I worked with programmers in Taiwan and the UK, manufacturing plants in China, and distributors in the UK and Iceland – mostly from my desk in London,” he says.

After getting the phone to market, Mansoor put together a plan to sell Danish wind turbines to Albania. This business did not work out, due to changes in the Albanian political leadership, but he learned a lot about how politics and business work together (or don’t).

Back home for a break, an advert for the executive director post caught his eye. With his new-found knowledge of how important local government is to business, he applied.

“I realised I had the skills and experience to make a difference, and that I could,” he says. The Economic, Social Development and Tourism directorate and its 300 or so staff works towards helping the city grow as a place to visit and to do business.

The development, retention and attraction of skills and investment by becoming globally competitive is the directorate’s main focus.

One of the directorate’s other responsibilities is managing any City property not directly managed by a specific directorate, and for buying or selling City property. It’s also responsible for tourism, social development, promoting arts, culture and festivals.

Mansoor was appointed in September 2006, and walked straight into the hornet’s nest of the Greenmarket Square lease dispute. The City wished to regain control of the Square from controversial Councillor Badih Chaaban, who had held a lease on parts of the trading areas. The City won the long, very public dispute and legal battle with Chaaban last December. Licensed traders have since benefited from lower rentals and better regulation, and the City is now able to transform Cape Town’s historic trading heart into a vibrant marketplace.

Going for growth
“It was a terrific challenge and introduction to the job. And, importantly, I had the necessary political backing to get it done.”

The issues around Greenmarket Square were bigger than a dispute over a lease, and had a lot to do with the City’s role. Cities exist because “throughout history they’ve always developed around markets,” he says.

Economic development is part of the City’s mandate – it provides an environment that allows for growth. There is certainly no shortage of people with talent and drive.

“You won’t believe the entrepreneurial spirit you see at a place like Greenmarket Square. You’ve got people trading on eBay (an Internet auction site) and shipping world-wide. I know a stall-holder who is a cigarette company’s biggest single informal customer, doing more than a R100 000 a month in turnover.”

There are many success stories, but not all entrepreneurs succeed. Starting a business is easy. Staying in business is hard. Small businesses struggle with raising capital, cashflow, planning, administration, regulations and taxes. Many stumble at these ‘barriers to success’ and fail.

This is where the City comes in. It is not a bank, and cannot immediately change national legislation, but can reduce or remove many of the obstacles to business and provide other assistance.

“Simple things, like making it easier to get trading licences, or being more flexible about business zoning, for instance,” says Mansoor. Mansoor believes that the City can develop more efficient processes and remove many of the barriers that businesses – especially SMEs (small and -medium-sized enterprises) face.

“SMEs are the engine of economic growth. Big multinationals are critical, and we should be as attractive as possible to them, but SMEs create far more jobs. For every million rand that a multinational generates in turnover, it might create one job. The same turnover in an SME has the potential to create many jobs.

“We want to encourage the small trader, develop more of an entrepreneurial culture, and have access to bigger markets,” he says.

The competitive edge
“Key ingredients for competitiveness and success lie in one word – ‘institutions’. The most important driver of development and growth is our institutional efficiency.

“It’s not just about slashing ‘red tape’. Regulation itself is not the problem. You can have as much of that as is needed, providing the systems are efficient and easy to use.

“One of the immediate things we can do, and are doing, is to improve the way the City manages its own properties. We’re streamlining the processes – we brought in outside experts to help improve institutional efficiency – to clear backlogs and make it easier and faster to, say, release land for industry or trade.”

Mansoor says that another useful thing the City can do is to pass responsibility on to selfregulating systems. One very successful example of self-regulating systems are the ‘CIDs’, the City Improvement Districts where business supplements the services the City provides.

“Take informal trading licences. Why should the City issue these individually at all? Why not licence a traders’ association and have it regulate itself? Most people are honest and hard-working, and all we have to do is be able to deal with the few rotten eggs,” he says.

Mansoor has great faith in the ability of individuals to work hard and to rise to challenges. But he also thinks that the ‘developmental state’ model (where the state sets strategies and goals, as Indonesia and Malaysia have done) is also important – even if it is a frequently misunderstood concept.

“Rather call it infrastructure-led development. Look at public transport. The legacy we want after 2010 is efficient public transport with an affordable ‘one-ticket’ system. That’s the most powerful tool for economic inclusion – nothing is more empowering than access and mobility,” he says.

Making sure the city is business-friendly is a big job, but that’s just one part of Mansoor’s portfolio. Tourism is also his responsibility. Cape Town is now a tremendous ‘brand’ worldwide, and the many tourism awards that line his office walls reflect this. In May, Cape Town won another prestigious World Travel Association ‘Best African Destination’ award (dubbed the ‘Oscars’ of international destination awards). Promoting Cape Town as a destination can be a frustrating process, as the City does not have as much influence as it would like. It provides half the funding for Cape Town Routes Unlimited, the regional ‘destination marketing’ organisation meant to promote the city and the province, yet has only two people on the thirteen-member board.

There have been some very public spats between the City and Province over this issue, but Mansoor is quite unfazed. He thinks this merely underscores the role the City plays.

More of a say
“It’s a structural problem, and we are working on it,” he says. “There is recognition that Cape Town generates more than three-quarters of the province’s economic value, and so must have greater representation and more of a say.” (The City has since pulled out of CTRU and awarded the marketing mandate to Cape Town Tourism.)

The City had great influence in other areas that are not immediately obvious, and what is broadly termed ‘social development’ is one of those. It’s a City mandate to promote arts and culture, but also early child-care facilities.

“Education becomes a Provincial mandate with formal primary education, but local government has early childcare facilities,” he says.

“The more resources we can invest in a person in his or her very early years, the better that person will perform in formal education.”

That’s a very long-term and holistic view, but then that’s not surprising coming from him. Mansoor knows from his own experience that success takes vision, determination, perseverance, and a fair dash of courage.

“I’d like to think that I am in a position to influence things beyond my specific post and my authority. You never know until you try, and if at first you don’t succeed, try again.”

True business-talk from someone who knows, and just what the City needs for solid economic growth.

April 2008

Curriculum vitae

Qualifications 1997 CA(SA)
1993 Honours B Compt Unisa
1987 Matric
Work summary Date Location Job title
City of Cape Town 2006 - present Cape Town Executive Director – Economic, Social Development and Tourism
Cartridge World 2003 - 06 London Managing Director – Cartridge World (Chelsea) Limited
Old Mutual 2002 London Group Finance Manager – Special Projects
2001 London Group Finance Manager – Asset Management
1999-01 London Group Finance and Management Accountant
1998 Cape Town Listing Project Accountant
1996-7 Cape Town Account Executive
Gap year 1995 Travel Travelled overseas
Arthur Andersen 1992-4 Cape Town Trainee Accountant