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Together we will overcome this Winter of Discontent

As winter comes, there is also another kind of winter descending on South Africa and the world

Speaker

City colleagues

Members of the public and guests,

members of the media,

Good Morning, Molweni, More, Assalamu alaikum.

We can all feel the unmistakeable signs of winter: the chill in the air, the dark mornings, the first rains that we welcome even as we reach for our blankets and jerseys.

As winter comes, there is also another kind of winter descending on South Africa and the world. The famous opening line of Richard III – “Now is the winter of our discontent” – comes to mind, with load-shedding again and the prospect of worse to come, soaring cost of living, petrol price hikes, terrible floods and droughts at the same time, and an economy stuck deep in the winter mud.

Around the world, the cost of living is becoming the defining political issue of the post-Covid era.

In Britain, for example, inflation has reached a 40-year-high in the last twelve months. British people are talking about having to choose between heating and eating. Other wealthy countries in North America, Asia, Europe are facing alarming increases in the price of food and energy. For many of these countries, inflation is a new experience. Children have grown up without ever seeing inflation.

In South Africa, we are sadly more used to the grinding erosion of income and purchasing power that inflation inflicts, particularly on the poor. But make no mistake, higher inflation means South Africans are getting poorer as whatever income families do have, just doesn’t go as far as it did.

The results of an FNB study last week should give us all pause. The study revealed that middle-income consumers are spending up to 80% of their monthly salaries within five days of being paid. Not only are South Africans struggling to keep up with the cost of living, but they are becoming increasingly indebted. This is not a sustainable situation.

To make matters worse, we still haven’t seen enough urgent action from national government on the fundamental reforms needed to drive economic growth, create jobs and roll back poverty.

In Cape Town, we believe we cannot just sit around feeling hopeless, waiting for something to change.

Instead, we are doing what we can to ease the burden of global and local economic hardship on Capetonians. This includes:

• Ensuring below-inflation increases on the costs of rates and services;

• Leading the fight against Eskom’s above-inflation increases in electricity tariffs;

• Offering the biggest free basic services programme for vulnerable residents of any municipality in South Africa;

• Protecting the City’s economy, and our customers, from one stage of load-shedding;

• Writing off the historic debts of residents who have struggled to keep up with payments of municipal bills.

The guiding philosophy of this administration’s policy positions is aggressive economic growth, to bring more jobs to Cape Town and to help more and more people out of poverty in Cape Town.

We can only make progress as a society if we obsess, day and night, about jobs and economic growth. In this government, nothing else matters as much as this one overarching and supreme public goal.

The IDP we table next week makes this vision a reality and outlines how residents can play their part too, because we can only achieve our goals if we work together.

Speaker, it has been so reassuring to see how so many of Cape Town’s residents have stepped up during one of the most trying times our country has faced. This increase in active citizenry is in my view a critical part of the solution to many of the problems we face.

The winter of discontent, while being a metaphor for tough economic times in the country, is also a very literal description of the often-harsh Cape Town winter.

Every year it floods in Cape Town. Yet, every year, people are flooded out of their homes built on flood plains. If we are going to resolve this annual challenge, we need to work together.

The City has made a proactive start. Three weeks ago, I visited Vrygrond to see for myself some of the pre-emptive work that our teams are carrying out to protect residents and their homes as far as possible from flooding. I saw the work being done with jet vacuum trucks to remove roots, litter, sand and many other obstacles that cause blockages in the sewer system. These teams will proactively jet clean 100 kilometres of pipe in the most flood-prone parts of the city.

But we cannot do this alone. We need residents to play their part by protecting storm water infrastructure, not blocking the drains and cleaning up around them.

Crucially, it is important that citizens are aware of the risks of building structures below the winter flood lines.

Our Disaster Risk Management teams have erected signage in the affected areas and continuously warn residents of the dangers via loud-hailer and the distribution of information pamphlets. Our hope is that everyone heeds the warning before the rains come.

Speaker, as we head into the coldest months of the year, our thoughts also turn to the plight of people who live out on the streets. I am sure that everybody is alarmed – as I am – at the sheer number of people sleeping rough, on pavements, parks, road reserves, and under bridges.

The upsurge in homelessness – driven strongly by the impact of the global Covid-19 lockdown – is evident the world over, from San Francisco and Seattle, to London and Johannesburg. It is a global challenge.

In Cape Town, it is important that we respond, first and foremost, as human beings helping other human beings. Whichever way you look at it, the people who face a cold winter without a roof over their heads are there because life has not worked out the way they’d hoped, some combination of tragic circumstance has contrived to put them there. And they need our help.

This is why, to help people off the streets, we have increased the City’s Care Programme to R77 million in 2022/23. This programme includes our Reintegration Unit of social development professionals, who are currently undertaking a city-wide process of social assessments of those living on the streets. These individual assessments include the reasons for homelessness in each case, a person’s physical and mental health, their living conditions, and sources of income – if any. These personal, one-on-one consultations lead to a referral for mental or addiction treatment, and for social assistance, which can include accommodation at a shelter or City-run safe space.

The Safe Space model includes dignified shelter, comfort and ablutions, two meals per day, access to a social worker on-site, personal development planning, ID Book and social grant assistance, access to substance and alcohol abuse treatment, skills training, help to find a job, and EPWP work placement. More than 1 150 people took advantage of these services and participated in development programmes at City-run Safe Spaces over the past year. A total of R142m is allocated to operate and expand these facilities beyond the CBD and Bellville over the next three years.

I have seen the good work our teams are doing to help homeless people off the streets and I would like to take this opportunity to thank them for their tireless efforts. Being a social worker in Cape Town is a difficult job – confronted daily with trauma, sadness and despair that would crush most of us.

In the last year, our teams have directly helped 860 people off the streets, through shelter placements, reunifying family and loved ones, and other forms of social assistance.

We’re also leveraging EPWP to help people get back on their feet, with over 730 work placements since May 2021. Over the same period, our social development officials completed over 720 referrals for social grants, identity documents, specialised care facilities, and substance abuse treatment – with an 80% Matrix programme success rate to address addiction as a key driver of why people end up on the streets.

This is aside from what is being achieved by civil society, and we are planning to do much more together with NGO partners and other levels of government.

I urge those in need of assistance to please make use of the services available, and I call on the public – as active citizens – to support the many deserving NGO-run projects that Give Dignity by offering sustainable solutions to help people off the streets.

One of the first actions I took in the adjustment budget at the beginning of this year, was to set aside R10 million for this winter to increase bed space at NGO-run shelters.

Together with donations by the public to NGOs, this will go a long way this winter to helping people off the streets and hopefully onto a sustainable pathway of reintegration.

Our every care intervention is aimed at helping people out of a life on the streets.

Helping people off the streets is an imperative, not just for those we help, but for the broader community.

Our City’s public places have important social, community and economic purposes, and must be open and available to all. No person has the right to reserve a public space as exclusively theirs, while indefinitely refusing all offers of shelter and social assistance.

I would like to make it clear that if they do not have a choice, it is not an offence for a person to sleep on the streets. And – as I have outlined – we will do everything in our power to ensure that people do have a choice.

In cases where social support has been consistently refused, the City will seek the necessary court order, and ensure alternative accommodation at shelters or safe spaces has been offered.

At all times, we will be guided by the need to balance the rights of people in desperate circumstances with the rights of all people to enjoy unfettered access to public places. This is not easy, but I am committed to getting this balance right, and I hope that every member of this Council will join me in this endeavour.

Speaker, active citizenry means all of us working together, regardless of political affiliation, to achieve our goals.

And speaking of active citizens, just last week I co-launched the Urban Design and Mobility Forum in Cape Town, along with the Young Urbanists. This Forum brings together young, future-minded people from the City government and the urban design community to talk about how we can make Cape Town even better. The Forum includes an advisory network of practitioners and officials, who will think, discuss and challenge city policy and implementation, with an eye on best practice from around the world. It is important to co-create a creative space where knowledge, insight and great ideas can be shared.

We have also launched our Advisory Committee on the cleanliness of our rivers, vleis and waterways, under the leadership of Cllr Lansdowne. This committee brings water activists from around the city into the heart of our government’s programme to clean up these water bodies. We are sharing information openly for the first time, live and online, and getting the best feedback from experts and laypeople who share our passion.

I’m excited about the future potential of partnerships like these.

Just as working hand in hand with civil society is going to make our impact so much stronger, so too do we need to work closer with the private sector to deliver more plentiful and affordable housing for Cape Town.

And in this regard we are making great progress on our Land Release Priority Programme, with a focus on four work streams:

• A more rapid pipeline of land release for social housing

• Identifying large mixed-use sites for private sector development

• Unlocking the massive potential of micro-developers

• Developing an enabling planning environment to accelerate affordable housing delivery

I’m particularly encouraged by progress to enable micro-developers, because this sector is already delivering huge amounts of homes each year, and can do much more with government acting as an enabler, not a blocker.

We are engaging lenders on financing and technical support for micro-developers, while exploring how the City can make life easier, for instance, via exemptions from administrative penalties, by developing off-the-shelf plans, and by starting ‘planning support offices’ in informal settlements.

While we are fully prepared to look within and shorten City processes, we are advancing an advocacy agenda for national government to release the huge pieces of unused state land in the city, which are at least 77 times the size of the land the city owns.

The City currently has more than 6 500 social housing units in the overall pipeline across 50 land parcels citywide.

This includes 2 000 social housing units in the central Cape Town area, and a further 2 500 opportunities - either in the construction phase or close to it - along the Voortrekker Road Corridor and near important economic nodes.

Spades have been in the ground at Maitland for several months already, where 200 social housing units are under construction.

In Woodstock, building plans for the Pine Road development were submitted for approval on 20 May by developer SOHCO. If all goes to plan, we will see construction start on this inner city social housing project within a few months, which should enable tenanting by late 2023 or early 2024.

Dillon Lane – also in Woodstock – is set to deliver around 150 social housing units. I’m advised that it is possible to start construction within a year, and that both the Site Development Plan and building plan approvals can be completed within 2022. We will be pushing to get this done in the earliest timeframe possible.

And on the council agenda today are two exciting inner city properties set to deliver around 760 social housing units alone, within broader mixed-used, mixed market developments.

Today we are seeking Council’s authority to advertise our intention to release Newmarket Street for development. This project is set to include around 365 mixed-market units and 165 social housing units.

The second property on the agenda today is Pickwick, a major development which should include some 600 social housing units.

Today we are asking Council to approve the start of public participation on our intention to release the property, with a view to awarding the site for social housing.

We are determined to bring more properties to council in the coming months as our Land Release Priority Programme gains momentum – watch this space.

Speaker, in the last four Council meetings I have reported tangible progress on four of our seven core pledges.

We have:

- made progress on ending load-shedding in Cape Town over time by starting our own procurement process for independent power producers

- made progress on fixing public transport by securing national government support for the goal of devolving the passenger rail to the metro government, and starting our own rail feasibility study

- made progress on making Cape Town safer, with a budget for 150 new law enforcement officers and 80 new auxiliary officers in our first year of government

- and today we have made progress on our commitment to deliver more affordable housing for Capetonians, with two more pieces of land today and more on the way

Lastly, beating off the metaphorical winter that lies ahead for South Africa will require Cape Town to grow our economy faster - to absorb unemployed people into jobs and help them escape poverty.

And so I was delighted this weekend to join CEO of Virgin Atlantic, Sir Richard Branson, in announcing a new London-Cape Town daily direct flight that will add 80 000 seats to this route, with more exciting news to come in the airline space as Wesgro’s Air Access team continue to do excellent work at bringing more direct flights to Cape Town.

These are huge announcements, and speak to the confidence that international airlines have in Cape Town. More business people and tourists coming to Cape Town means more investment for our local economy and more jobs.

Speaker, it may be too early to speak of green shoots of recovery, but I am confident that we can get our economy – and our city – moving in the right direction. With commitment, dedication and a clear plan of action we can face the storms ahead. Working together, we will emerge from this winter stronger than ever before.

I thank you.

Source: City Of Cape Town

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