Cape Town - The international judging panel of the World Design Capital designation, based in Canada, has reacted to allegations made in Parliament that the City of Cape Town “paid” judges for the award, saying it has no reason to believe there was any breach of agreement to support these claims.
“The World Design Capital (WDC) designation has become a coveted designation that is established and maintained by the International Council of Societies of Industrial Design (Icsid) – a reputable NGO with a 57-year history managing and implementing programmes internationally. We are disheartened by any allegations that would question the credibility of the process by which the WDC cities are appointed,” said Icsid secretary-general Dilki de Silva.
Human Settlements Minister Lindiwe Sisulu launched a scathing attack on the city and its funding of the World Design Capital programme during last week’s parliamentary debate on the State of the Nation address.
Although her vitriol was aimed at DA parliamentary leader Mmusi Maimane, Sisulu had strong criticism for the city’s spending “millions” on “a scam called the Design Capital”.
She told the National Assembly: “These millions could have been spent on shelter and proper sanitation. The DA city council basically paid the judges for the Design Capital award and will continue to pay these judges for the next three years.”
De Silva said: “To the best of our knowledge, Icsid has no reason to believe there was a breach of agreement between any of the selection committee members that would support these allegations of misconduct.”
While Sisulu’s comments may speak more about underlying tension between the minister and the DA-led city council, harking back to disputes about the N2 Gateway housing project, they have reignited considerable interest in the city’s World Design Capital programme which has been under way for almost six months.
Alayne Reesberg, chief of the implementing agency for WDC, Cape Town Design, said Sisulu’s statement was “an amazing opportunity for us to tell the story” of design. Cape Town Design was not part of the bidding process, so Reesberg could not comment on the nature of the allegations, but she did say: “We welcomed the spotlight, as it was an opportunity to rearticulate to a bigger audience the importance of what we are doing here.”
For some, the notion of a year of design-related events in a city where sanitation, housing and crime present ongoing challenges is a difficult sell.
At a council meeting this week, ANC caucus leader Tony Ehrenreich was dismissive of its merits.
“When a bird flies we say it is because of World Design Capital. How have we used WDC principles to build one low-cost house?”
But Garreth Bloor, mayoral committee member for tourism, events and marketing, said the value of WDC was its emphasis on collaboration, and many councillors had already taken up the opportunity to propose ideas that could use design-related solutions.
This is done with “co-creation” workshops where ward councillors can highlight the needs of their respective communities.
The concept of using design to transform lives may be a bit esoteric for some, so it’s understandable that people are asking what the tangible or rand-and-cents value of WDC will be for the city, and for communities.
Reesberg pointed out that it took a few years for the quantitative value of the World Cup to be calculated, and that was just a month-long event.
She said the combined total of earned media coverage from January 2013 until May this year was R346 million.
The city council has invested R40m in the WDC designation over a three-year period, and various projects have already benefited from additional funding and private sector sponsorship. Projects have an opportunity to attract potential funders at regular pitching sessions and this week the Muizenberg Festival was given R10 000 by Cape Town Design NPC for its winning idea.
The company has set aside R1m for recognised projects.
The single biggest foreign investment to date had been R5m from the Dutch government, said Reesberg. The funding will be used for Department of Design, a three-week event that includes workshops on issues ranging from food security to health.
It will also be attended by a Dutch trade delegation, to deepen diplomatic and economic relationships between the two countries.
Bonnie Horbach, the Dutch consul-general in Cape Town, said Africa was no longer viewed by Europe as a “lost continent”.
With its rapidly expanding market, the continent also boasted one of the fastest-growing young urban populations “with huge potential”.
“There is an emancipation going on in Africa. If we want to play your game, we need to be on an equal footing.”
She said the partnerships forged during those three weeks would not end in 2014. “It’s about connections, building relationships and creating an incubator to get people together.”