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Mayor’s newsletter for the week ending 19 January 2024

Ald Leon van Wyk, Executive Mayor of George

It was pleasing to be able to attend the preliminaries to a planning meeting between the Municipality’s Planning department and a high-level team from the Development Bank of Southern Africa (“DBSA”) who have earmarked Thembalethu for a showcase pilot project to develop economic activity including business processing outsource (“BPO”) capability. The involvement of the DBSA is very welcome in support of the infrastructure upgrades being envisaged for Thembalethu. The focus on the BPO sector latches on to the promising activity in this sector where George has recently been visited by representatives of another international company exploring the outsourcing of services into the Western Cape.

We have also touched base with the team producing the Ouma Sarie TV series that is flighted on ETV. This is the #1 Afrikaans television show across all genres with more than 1,8m viewers per episode. It is produced and filmed in George by a home-grown team with no formal training in television production experience. We congratulate the team on this excellent achievement and look forward to the planned expansion into a fully-fledged film studio adding more employment in this creative sector.

We met with the Provincial Minister of Mobility, MEC Ricardo Mackenzie to discuss the progressive roll-out of the GO GEORGE bus service into Thembalethu and collaborative efforts on engagements to revive rail freight and growing the Air Access program into George. Readers will have noticed media reports about low productivity within the Cape Town port that are delaying both fruit exports and imported goods awaited by retail operations. Pressure is being placed on the National Government to remedy the ineffectiveness of Transnet’s rail service and ports and the resultant costs to the economy. There are benefits to be obtained from Wesgro’s Air Access program with respect to international tourism and air cargo. Air travel packages are already being offered to tourists visiting the Garden Route from Cape Town.

In their recent report on the South African economy, the Harvard Growth Lab referred to the collapse of the state’s capacity to implement and direct policies to drive progress within state departments and enterprises in the country. This critique extended to corruption and preferential procurement resulting in minimal economic growth for the country. These policies have led to the increase in national debt and the cut-back in expenditure that has already affected Provincial education and health budgets, for example.

Census 2022’s confirmation that George’s population was just below 295000 in February 2022 means that the provision of health and education services and infrastructure will require upgrades, placing further pressure on the already constrained Provincial budget. It is evident from recent interactions with the medical and educational fraternity expressing their concerns about being under-capacitated in serving patients and learners. Regarding education, the Province is exploring an innovative approach where the public and private sectors can partner in funding and delivery models that can conform with legal prescripts.

Even though the above services are not within the mandate of local government, we are actively engaging as we attempt to facilitate solutions to unlock opportunities that will benefit the economy and our communities.