After 10 years as a voice for the DA on financial matters in Parliament, Geordin Hill-Lewis has his eyes set on the Cape Town mayoral chain.
The DA selected Hill Lewis as the party's mayoral candidate, replacing the incumbent Dan Plato – if the party wins the City in the local government elections.
And Hill-Lewis, the former chief of staff in Helen Zille’s office, said he's up to the task.
“During the lockdown, I had this realisation that the next phase in the democratic development as a country is going to be led by strong competent local governments, that can assert themselves and do things much better than at national level and so can protect cities from the consequences of the declining national economy for the next decade or so.
“And I thought what better place to try and lead that new phase than in Cape Town where the basics work, but there's an opportunity to define that space so I decided to go for it,” said Hill-Lewis.
Some people have raised questions about his political credentials – the mayoral seat has previously been occupied by political “veterans” and at 34, Hill-Lewis said he was not offended.
“What Cape Town really needs is fresh ideas, a leader who will push boundaries of what local governments do and are prepared to try new things and shake up the way things have always been done.
“And people who have been in the system for a long time struggle to think out of the box. It's useful to have a fresh approach so this will be an advantage for me,” said Hill-Lewis.
Hill -Lewis has promised to usher in a new way of doing business.
“I want Cape Town to be the easiest place to do business in Africa.
“That’s my ambition.
“And all of my other ambitions are linked to that – for example ending load-shedding.
“It is possible for Cape Town to become the first place in the country to do this.
“It”s about making it easier for people to run their business,“ said Hill-Lewis
Hill-Lewis said his other focus would be on helping and supporting the entrepreneurs who are the real heroes, who risk everything to start a business and reinvesting in basic services which had, due to the budget cuts by national government started to show signs of cracking.
“We want every single resident of Cape Town to see and feel the DA difference in their own communities.
“I want people to have a sense of dignity and if they live without the basic services we have to find a way of providing those faster,” he said.
The City faces serious challenges in housing, rising homelessness as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic and has been often accused of looking after a certain citizens.
“I spent about five years of my career working in the most poor parts of the city – Philippi, Crossroads, Sweet Valley, Kosovo and I saw first-hand the problems there and investment worth millions of rands in those areas.
“But where there are serious shortcomings in service delivery we will focus on how we can get more money and resources and investment into those services,” he said.
But he also promised to have his ear on the ground.
“I also want to hear from the people about the service that they are getting, what they need and expect from a world-class city,” he said, adding that the goal should be ensuring dignity.
However, people have already shared with him that their biggest concern was crime.
“The provincial government working together with the City introduced the LEAP programme which has deployed law enforcement officers into crime hot spots.
“It’s helping to bring down violent crime but we need more.
“I met with a single lady in Mitchells Plain who told me that she and her three daughters had struggled to sleep at night because they lived next to a small lane which criminals used as an escape route.
“People should be able to sleep at night.
“I would look at how the City would increase the number of officers.
“Secondly, the City could do with a good spring clean and I would like everyone to get involved so they can take pride in this beautiful city,” Hill-Lewis.
The last big issue he would want to tackle is ensuring an efficient, safe public transport system as he believed a broken public transport system was “reinforcing spatial apartheid”, citing the dysfunctional Metrorail system.
“In the same way the national government realised that it could not run SAA and was also now looking for private partners to run the Durban harbour… allow those levels of government who are competent, like the City, and the province have a more role to play in the train system here.
“I would want to pursue those talks aggressively,” said Hill-Lewis.
Asked how he would manage the collapse of the MyCiTi N2 Express which left thousands of commuters in Khayelitsha and Mitchells Plain dependent on minibus taxis and buses operated by Golden Arrow.
“There are complicated contractual disputes and negotiations with taxi operators that have to be sorted out.
“But it has to be a priority to get that trunk route functioning,”
On the rising demand for housing Hill Lewis said the City would have to ensure that it was investing in the infrastructure.
“People move here because of work opportunities, that’s a sign of success and we must not be afraid of it.
“If we look at budget cuts from the national government, even if we spent every cent every year, there's no way that the state can provide houses for everyone who needs them.
“We need to support a change to a site and service model and give people title deeds.
“We also have to release the state-owned pieces of land so that the private sector can build affordable homes.
“Not everyone needs a free home.”
Hill-Lewis is excited about the “micro-development concept” and thinks this would revolutionise the delivery of housing stock and help ease the pressure.
“I met a lady, called Zama, in Delft.
“She decided to build three cottages at the back of her retired mother’s property and they rent them out.
“She has provided three affordable homes for people; helping us solve the problem without a government subsidy.
“At the moment the City sees those structures as illegal but we should see them as a solution, as long as they are safe to live in.
“A thousand Zamas could deliver more in one single year,” he said.
Hill-Lewis who grew up in Cape Town was raised by a single mother who instilled the values of “care, love for other people and hard work”.
He has the support of his wife, Carla whom he met while they were both in matric at Edgemead High School.
He is a family man who spends his “spare time” reading, when the family is visiting parks to limit his six-year-old daughter’s screen time.