The woman behind Cape Town’s transformation

The city of Cape Town is one of the continent’s cleanest and most hospitable metros, as well as one of the world’s best places to live, play and stay.

Need evidence for this? British newspaper The Guardian and the US The New York Times both voted Cape Town top holiday destination for 2014 − the same year the city was declared World Design Capital.

Cape Town has it all − the pristine beaches, the natural beauty of Table Mountain and Kirstenbosch Gardens, the rich history of Robben Island, as well as the clubs, cocktail bars, coffee bars and world-class restaurants that win international awards.

A tarnished past  

But the city that is Cape Town wasn’t always wonderful. Ten years ago, tour guides advised tourists against visiting the city centre, rather ferrying them to the commercialised harbour at the V&A Waterfront or outlying areas instead. Crime was commonplace, buildings were boarded up and stores were closing down.

Makalima-Ngewana recalls the urban decay: “People were being mugged at gunpoint all the time, there was no parking management system, the city was dirty and it looked like Durban.”

The town planner used to live in Durban, a city she says was once a shopping mecca but has now lost its lustre.

“A lot of the corporates were moving out of the CBD,” she says. Old Mutual fled from its building, which was − according to Makalima-Ngewana − one of the best in South Africa.

“That beautiful art deco building – Old Mutual boarded it up and built a new campus in Pinelands because town was completely impossible to do business in.”

The situation came to a head when city landlords started defaulting on rates because tenancy figures fell. Valuations dropped and property investments lost value.

In response, in 1999, the City of Cape Town, the South African Property Owners Association, the Regional Chamber of Commerce and Industry and other stakeholders founded a public/private partnership to manage Cape Town’s CBD.

Breathing new life into the CBD  

At the time Makalima-Ngewana was working at the Centre for Conflict Resolution, but when South Africa was named host of the 2010 Soccer World Cup, she knew she had to get back into town planning.

Makalima-Ngewana says she realised that SA’s cities would be showcased in 2010, and she wanted to be part of the team that revitalised Cape Town.

Makalima-Ngewana started as a senior programme manager, which meant knocking on the doors of property owners to sell them on the idea of establishing a Central City Improvement District (CCID).

The City Council was strapped for cash because it had to spend greater resources on previously disadvantaged areas, so part of the Cape Town Partnership’s job was to convince property owners and businesses why rates and taxes needed to be supplemented.

A tough sell in a recessionary environment, but this is where Makalima-Ngewana’s experience in negotiating at the Centre for Conflict Resolution came in handy.

This is an excerpt from an article that originally appeared in the 19 November 2015 edition of finweek. Buy and download the magazine here.

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