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CapeInfo has invited a number of people to give their views on "Stellenbosch: Delivering as Innovation Capital of South Africa."  Those will be added here as separate articles later this month.  In this introduction, outgoing Mayor Conrad Sidego explains the purpose.

Conrad Sidego: How it all came about

Then, after moving around for a year, I started feeling that there is something else – the creativity, innovation and entrepreneurial spirit – and that what I had been promoting was too elitist.

Statistics show that South Africa is the most unequal country in the world, and Stellenbosch is the most unequal town in South Africa.  Being Mayor of the most unequal town in the world was not a comfortable feeling.

I started spelling out my vision and I came up with the pillars of:
  • Preferred Investment Destination – “We don’t create jobs but we can create environments where people can thrive.”
  • Greenest Municipality – This addresses the rivers, the environment, carbon footprint and opportunities for ‘green’ jobs.
  • Safest Valley – "The three basic needs for everyone are jobs, housing and safety."
  • Dignified Living – This addresses especially those living in informal settlements.

When this was taken further by the municipal management, they added Good Governance & Compliance.  

Martin Smuts, the deputy Mayor, encouraged me to put my thoughts in some concrete form and so I formulated four of the five pillars. It is the whole machinery, workings, of the municipality on one page -- from Vision to Values. This is how I came up with the all-embracing vision and goal of Innovation Capital of SA.

Vision Poster

Conrad Sidego

Innovation is not an option. It is a necessity. Innovation is the only way we will be able to overcome the huge challenges this town and country faces.

When I realised I was mayor of one of the most unequal towns in the world, I knew it could not be business as usual any more.

For its size, Stellenbosch is home base to an extraordinary large number of multi-national corporations. It is a great place for start-ups in the knowledge economy, with a pool of resources, knowledge and experience. The Silicon Cape Initiative embraces Cape Town and Stellenbosch.

Stellenbosch’s Johann Rupert was one of the speakers at the Silicon Cape launch with Helen Zille, where he spoke so eloquently about the knowledge economy and the future of cities.

There are two sides to innovation:

There is the normal approach that you find in Stellenbosch’s Technopark, in garages and in coffee shops – people creating new solutions.  What caught my eye was a young company that developed something new and sold it to Garmin for R100 million.

The other side is social innovation… coming up with better solutions for housing and job creation.  Everything needs to come together to grow our economy, to foster wealth creation, new jobs and new skills.  We have to address Stellenbosch as the Valley of Possibilities.

We have to address the 60% of our community who are the poorest, the have-nots, predominantly black and coloured.

It can’t be a strategy of hand-outs and feeding schemes.  The Innovation Capital must engender a sense of self-belief, growing human potential.  We can’t speak about the poor, but rather the temporary poor.

We need a clean start, we face unusual challenges and we have to do some extraordinary things to do urgently.  We have to involve the private sector which must show responsibility for the community.

We have world-class university with great depth of skills and resources; and they must also assist.

Is the municipality showing innovation in Stellenbosch?

The Municipality has to follow government rules and guidelines.  But since we have adopted the innovation vision, there is the constant reminder to solve problems innovatively.  Getting out of the bureaucratic way of thinking is not easy.   We must comply by acts and systems.  It is a process and a marathon to run, not a sprint.

It is a process – very important – not a year-by-year approach, which is handed over to the next generation with continued energy and a growing visionary approach.

Innovation now needs a business plan which integrates into everything the Municipality does, to give it effect.  The Brand Promise must become evident in everything the Municipality does.