Cape Town is future proofing for population explosion

Mayor Hill-Lewis is criss-crossing the US, with a stopover in the UK to woo investors to the city. Hill-Lewis meeting with New York City Mayor Eric Adams. Picture: Mayor Eric Adams/X

Mayor Hill-Lewis is criss-crossing the US, with a stopover in the UK to woo investors to the city. Hill-Lewis meeting with New York City Mayor Eric Adams. Picture: Mayor Eric Adams/X

Published Jan 20, 2024


Cape Town - Cape Town mayor, Geordin Hill-Lewis, says the City is preparing for an ever increasing urban population that's expected to reach about 10 million within a generation because of its better public services, job creation and economic opportunities.

Hill-Lewis is criss-crossing the US, with a stopover in the UK to woo investors to the city, and was speaking as guest of the Woodrow Wilson Centre, an independent, non-partisan group that seeks to foster relations between the US and other countries. The theme of the discussion was Africa's Growing Cities: Challenges and Opportunities.

The CEO of the centre and former ambassador to Tanzania, Mark Greene, said by 2050 Africa's population would have doubled to 2.5 billion – one fourth of the world's population.

“Seventy percent of that growth is expected to happen in cities like Lagos, Kinshasa, Mombasa and Cape Town, who will see their populations triple. By 2100, 10 of the world's 20 largest cities will be on the African continent.

These growing cities represent opportunities as well for Africa and the US to bring the power of innovation and private entrepreneurship to bear.”

Hill-Lewis said Cape Town was already preparing for a population explosion, as the latest census showed.

“In Cape Town, we have a very good idea what our future will look like.

“Our country's latest census data which we just got shows that Cape Town is now the biggest city in the country by population numbers. We have now crossed over the size of Johannesburg that has for the longest time been South Africa's biggest city. There are now more that five million people in Cape Town and we know we will rapidly grow as our city's track record for both job creation and economic opportunities and better public services make Cape Town more and more desirable.”

Hill-Lewis said he was already asking his team in the City of Cape Town what they were doing to prepare for a population of 10 million people.

“We think that is a huge opportunity. Some people may see it as a very daunting challenge and of course, it comes with its pressures, but if you are well prepared for the future it can be an opportunity and we choose to make it an opportunity.

“We believe that the doubling of Cape Town's population has the potential to drive our economy and increase the prosperity of our residents, but only if we are well prepared.”

Hill-Lewis said despite the many challenges that Cape Town faced he was selling the city as a city of hope.

“Amidst the widespread loss in South Africa, sadly, of the optimism that defined the mid to late 1990s, we in Cape Town must still demonstrate that there is still a real prospect of more opportunities and a better future. In other words, what we call the City of Hope.”

He said Cape Town should buck the national trend that had seen a steady neglect and decline in public infrastructure and services. He said this was because of under-investment in maintenance and expansion of infrastructure which had left many cities in a state of some dysfunction.

“Sewage systems in many towns and cities are struggling to cope and water outages are becoming more common in other parts of the country.”

Hill-Lewis said these problems occurred because of a failure to plan properly for the future and warned that an increase in urbanisation would place an even bigger burden on those infrastructure and public services.

He said he and his team in the City were “obsessed” with future-proofing the city, and had started a resilience and future planning department. This department reported directly to him.

“As a result of this obsessive future focus we have embarked on the most ambitious infrastructure investment programme ever undertaken in South Africa. At the moment our infrastructure pipeline is running at $6.5 billion in the next 10 years and growing.”

Hill-Lewis told the audience that the City was ramping up infrastructure spending every year, most specifically on water and sanitation infrastructure.

“Just to give you an idea, within the next three years we are going to outspend and out invest South Africa's other two biggest cities – Johannesburg and Durban – combined. We have embarked on huge projects in wastewater capacity, and delivering new sources of fresh water to our city so that we can protect ourselves from severe drought.”

Hill-Lewis gave an overview of the country's history and said 30 years into democracy the possibility of a national coalition government led by the DA and other Moonshot Pact partners may become a reality.

“There is at the very least a potential scenario, what we economists would describe as a non-trivial probability, that South Africa could end up with a change in government for the first time in its democratic dispensation and an even greater probability that even if the ANC is able to cling to government, that it will lose its majority and need a coalition in order to govern.

“If you add to the fact that several, previous fragmented opposition parties have now for the first begun to coalesce under the banner of what we call the Moonshot Pact, following the convening efforts of the DA, then you will understand of how much of a watershed this is.”

Hill-Lewis would have also met the Corporate Council on Africa, which promotes and facilitates investment for US companies in Africa.

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Weekend Argus