'It takes long hours and effort, but it is possible' – Harry Malila's journey from the Cape Flats to becoming Western Cape director general

Premier Alan Winde congratulates Harry Malila on his appointment as director general. (Photo: Supplied, Larissa Venter)
Premier Alan Winde congratulates Harry Malila on his appointment as director general. (Photo: Supplied, Larissa Venter)

From growing up in the streets of one of the city's poorer communities to holding the most senior position in the Western Cape government administration, Harry Malila knows the ills plaguing the Cape Flats.

"I understand what poverty is about," the newly appointed director general said.

"I grew up here. I am committed to this province. Doing this job is an honour." 

And he intends to focus on rendering services impartially and fairly, ensuring that resources are efficiently and economically used.

A beacon of hope

Malila, 48, grew up in Heideveld on the Cape Flats, about 15km outside the city centre.

An area ravaged by unemployment and drug abuse, Malila spends much of his time there, visiting his mother and working with youth from this area as well as nearby Valhalla Park.

"I want to bring hope and be a beacon for youngsters. By what I have achieved, I want to spread the message that no matter where you are from or how you grew up, you can have a better future if you work for it. It takes long hours and effort, but it is possible."

He dug deep to make something of himself, the father of two said, and is grateful for the opportunities that helped him meet the criteria to land provincial government's top job.

The former SA Revenue Service investigator in the mid-1990s was given the opportunity to earn his first degree, which started over two decades of juggling work and studies as he entered public service in 2001. Student loans partially helped cover his debt.

'My mother – my anchor - got to see this'

Almost 25 years later, he has his master's in business administration from Stellenbosch University and is currently busy with his PhD in public finance and economics, which he hopes to have attained by the time he is 50. He also has 15 years' experience in senior roles within the Provincial Treasury.

"The nicest part of this is that my mother – my anchor - got to see this," Malila said.

The public policy expert, who had served as director general in an acting capacity since May, is now officially in charge of provincial government operations as well as the implementation of the vision of the Premier and his Cabinet.

Premier Alan Winde explained that Malila's office is an important one in government as it is tasked with the delivery of the administration's key priorities.

"In the Western Cape, we have committed to focusing on improving safety, creating an enabling economic environment for the creation of jobs, improving transport and mobility, improved service delivery in our core mandates of education and health, and embedding innovation and culture change," he said.

"Mr Malila comes to us with a wealth of experience. His years in the Treasury mean he has an excellent understanding of the budgetary process and planning, and a firm grasp of the institutional mechanisms required for service delivery excellence.

Making a difference

"This experience, coupled with his vision for government that has a real and tangible impact on people's lives, make him ideally suited to this post."

Malila said he wanted to "build on the foundation of being a capable and functional state laid by this province over the past decade".

"Above this, I want to work towards a provincial administration that is people-centred and accessible to communities. Together with the top management team, I want to build public trust and create an environment of high standards of professional ethics."

He also hoped to be an example of the prospects that commitment and hard work could unlock, Malila told News24.

"To become the head of provincial administration doesn't come easy. I am humbled for the opportunity to serve the people of this province."

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