Prospective DA head of the Western Cape government, Alan Winde, has launched nearly a dozen businesses, but says that running a province is going to be his greatest entrepreneurial challenge so far.
Alan Winde has done quite a few things in his life – including starting and running at least ten businesses – before entering politics. But now, since being named the DA’s candidate for Premier of the Western Cape, he faces possibly his biggest challenge ever.
“If I become premier, it will be the biggest company I’ve ever run: a R65-billion company with seven million customers. That’s the province. And there are lots and lots of issues besides jobs that face society,” said Winde when interviewed by Noseweek shortly after the announcement of his candidacy. We met on Heritage Day at his home in Claremont, Cape Town, after the passionate cyclist had done a morning ride to Kalk Bay and back.
Winde, who is currently Western Cape Minister of Economic Opportunities, has served in the Provincial Legislature for the DA since 1999.
DA leader Mmusi Maimane has described him as “the next jobs premier”. Indeed, in nine years as an MEC involved in economic development, job creation has been at the forefront of his work; about 600,000 new jobs have been created in the Western Cape between 2009 and 2018. But for Winde, running the province would involve much more than providing jobs. “We want to create a province that’s safe, innovative, green, full of opportunity and full of hope.”
He said the selection panel for the post of premier had wanted to discuss the “three big things a province should be prioritising – jobs, health and education” – but I said we’ve already been doing those things, I want to talk about three other things – safety and security, public transport and resilience.
“But there’s also a fourth thing. The DA has in recent months been running a campaign called Let’s Talk and we’ve had hundreds of public meetings. What has emerged is that service delivery is a huge issue, whether it is water, electricity, serviced sites for housing or land etc. Local governments are at the coalface in all these issues. What the people want is efficient and effective local governments.
“The safety and security issue is a tough one, because the constitutional mandate to deal with this rests with the national government, and provinces have got oversight. We are busy trying to ramp up that oversight and enable local government to assist in building a safe environment. We need to get more metro police and traffic police on the ground. We also need to bring in technology and innovation to help us fight crime. And we must work with the private sector. There are more security personnel in this province than police. How do we connect those dots and work together?
On public transport, we need to do a lot more because that can really bolster the economy. We need to be much more synergistic.
In terms of resilience, we need to make sure resilience is part of our provincial DNA. The city is doing some great work on resilience. It is all about energy, water and climate change. We need to make sure that our communities are ready for climate change, for the Fourth Industrial Revolution or whatever else is coming our way. We need to think differently about how resilient we are as a society. We’ve done some great stuff in energy – we have more than 3,000 independent power producers in the City of Cape Town already – and we have become very resilient in terms of water. Since the drought, we probably have the equivalent of one of our big dams stored in water tanks around the municipalities of the Cape.
“We have a national plan for fighting an election but obviously we have to look at our vision for the province. If I am putting my hand up to be premier, I don’t want to just be elected on jobs. I want to be elected on the vision for this province.
“One thing is definite: I love this province and I love this country. I want to be the premier. I will soon be criss-crossing the province to talk about my vision, but I will be going with an open mind and an ear, to listen to what the province wants. I will have to start looking at everything with a different eye – an eye on the province – and work out how to bring my flavour to the challenges.”
Winde believes South Africa cannot be a just and proper society with the existing poverty gaps. “Everything we do must be towards creating an environment where everyone has an equal opportunity in life. That means you have to get education right, lift poverty levels, get the economy right. Obviously government will provide housing but if you can get unemployment down, more people could look after themselves. We need to address poverty and crime so we can take things to the next level.”
Winde, takes pride in his “open-door” policy as the only provincial government minister to have an office situated alongside other businesses in Long Street, in Cape Town’s CBD. His office is all glass and if you stand in the street outside, you can actually see him at his desk.“We have no security, no police, no metal detectors,” said Winde.
Winde’s office takes part in Cape Town’s First Thursdays (of each month) when galleries, shops and other venues stay open into the night and the streets throng with happy crowds.
“We’ve jumped at the First Thursday opportunity to invite people into our office to give talks – different entrepreneurs to hold exhibitions, we offer tips on how to start a business. We generally work till 10pm, interacting with members of the public on all aspects of the economy. First Thursdays are an opportunity for networking. For instance someone will come in and say, ‘I want to start a fruit juice company’. We can give them advice on who to talk to. People just walk in. It’s such a nice vibe.
“Sometimes we have successful entrepreneurs just telling their stories. Some come and put their product out – we had a guy displaying socks that he’s making – some people drive from the Karoo with their products! We have walk-in investors, consuls general come in, we even had the deputy mayor of London walking in! It’s all about an open office. They know they don’t have to have an appointment with me.”
Until now, said Winde, he had been focused on how he could make a difference within his portfolio, “but as of last week I have to think about the whole of society, the whole spectrum, so my brain is in overdrive.”
Ebrahim Rasool recently hit out at Winde, saying “the stars had aligned” when the DA named him as their choice for the next premier, accusing him of presiding over “the effective implosion of the Western Cape economy over the last decade”.
Rasool said: “We left him with a growth rate of 5.8%; he brought it down to 1.3 percent. We left him with an unemployment rate of 18.9%; he took it to its height of 23%. Most distressingly, Winde took the crime statistics from a reported low of 330,000 to almost 400,000.” Social housing delivery had also decreased in the province under the DA, added Rasool.
Winde shot back that Rasool’s comments were devoid of fact and common sense. “In the context of a global recession, the Western Cape has fared better than South Africa in every economic indicator.
“The province boasts the lowest broad unemployment rate in the country by 14 percentage points. Between 2012 and 2018, employment in the province grew between 60% and 100% faster than that of South Africa as a whole. And it has outpaced Gauteng and KZN – the traditional economic engine rooms of South Africa – by over 300% since 2008.
“Cape Town has now been declared sub-Saharan Africa’s leading financial hub. The Greater Cape Town region has also been named Africa’s tech capital, employing more residents in this sector than Nairobi and Lagos put together. And we have the best land- reform success rate in the country.
“By being a clean and corruption-free government, we have achieved greater business confidence, leading to local and global investment. We have handed out more title deeds since coming into office than any other province.”
To Rasool’s accusations that he drummed up Day Zero Panic, Winde retorted: “We tackled it (as well as the impact on tourism) head on… and together with our partners… we set about fundamentally changing the way residents and businesses use water, reducing consumption by more than half and gaining global recognition for our efforts.
“Despite these successes, we believe that every person who has actively sought an opportunity and cannot find one, is one too many. That’s why we are focused with laser-like intensity on growing the economy and creating jobs for our residents…”
Winde counts among his achievements as MEC of Finance, the incorporation of Cape Town Routes Unlimited into Wesgro as the single economic development delivery agency of the Western Cape.
Highlights during his time as MEC for Economic Opportunities include the introduction of Project Khulisa, the economic development strategy focusing on the three areas that have the biggest potential for growth and job creation: tourism, agri-processing and oil and gas.
“Under Project Khulisa one of the major successes has been air access – the project to increase the number of direct flights into Cape Town International Airport. Since 2015, they have negotiated 14 route expansions, 13 new routes and added 700,000 additional seats. Another success has been that wine exports to China and Angola have doubled since 2015.”
Winde also prides himself on the launch of three new cycle routes aimed at increasing cycle tourism in the province (with a fourth in the works).
Then there’s the Madiba Legacy Project to build a legacy route centred on Nelson Mandela. “Part of this includes the design and installation of the Madiba statue on the balcony of City Hall earlier this year.”
Another string to Winde’s bow is that the Western Cape has consistently been a major driver of job creation in South Africa. “The QLFS from StatsSA shows that the Western Cape produced 40% of the country’s total jobs, while contributing only 15% towards the economy. Between 2012 and 2018 employment in the province grew between 60% and 100% faster than that of South Africa as a whole. It has outpaced Gauteng and KZN, the traditional economic engine rooms of South Africa, by over 300% since 2008.”
Winde also prides himself on thinking way beyond his portfolio, and in constantly synergising with other ministries, a quality he believes will stand him in good stead should he become the premier.
“My job is the economy but last year, there were two issues not related to my portfolio that were seriously affecting the economy and the city. One was safety on Table Mountain, which was becoming a brand issue and the other, which wasn’t reported as much, was the ATM fraud in the city. Business people and tourists were being targeted by what appeared to be a syndicate. This time last year the average was 45 ATM hits a month.
“We realised we had a big problem because when we got hold of the SAPS or the metro police and said tourists were being hit in the city, the cops would say, ‘Yes, but 17 people are being murdered every day in gang violence’. So we decided we needed to think differently about ATM fraud.
“Our Social Development department runs the Chrysalis Academy in Tokai. We take children at risk and put them on this programme. We took some youngsters out of that programme and gave them some training. If you walk around the city now, you will see these youngsters handing out pamphlets warning people about ATM fraud. Through this action and through a well-thought-out partnership, we have turned the ATM fraud situation around. I believe very strongly in partnerships.
“In terms of the safety on the mountain, it has been tricky as we have less jurisdiction because it is run by a national park and our police don’t have the manpower to police Table Mountain. Our project is in progress and we aim to use data and drones, as well as coordinating SAPS guys with people from the Pedal Power Association.”
Asked what kind of premier he would be, Winde replied: “An open and accessible premier.”
What chance does the DA have
of taking the province again in next year’s poll? “We have a good chance,” said Winde.
“Obviously my goal is to increase the DA vote in the province, which means we must increase from 58%. It will be a tough ask.
“I think that 25 years into democracy, voters have legitimate questions. South Africa has the potential to be the leading country in Africa, but we have been in big trouble in terms of leadership in recent years. Other African countries like Rwanda, Kenya and Mauritius, are doing amazing things and stand the chance of forging ahead of us.
“We can’t fix everything all at once, but as a country we have a lot of work to do. We need to take a long, hard look at national policy. We need to be much bolder to get to the next level.”
The right thing
Alan Winde grew up on a fruit farm in Muldersdrift where his mother, Ingrid, farmed mainly peaches. His father, Dave, was an entrepreneur who, among other ventures, ran a factory that assembled Anglepoise lamps.
Winde says he inherited his entrepreneurial gene from his father. He remembers as a child “sitting around the table at night, hearing about the bank manager, the clients and the invoices”, and that during the peach season he and his two sisters would be roped in to take the fruit to market. In the school holidays, he had to help at his father’s factory.
Winde also recalls hanging posters during elections in the early days of the then Democratic Party. “My parents would always volunteer for the Progressive Federal Party or the DP during elections.”
Winde’s family sold the farm when he was about 14 years old and moved to Knysna, where he completed matric. He then joined the South African Navy, in Communications, and on his days off worked unpaid for a company in Cape Town “just to learn the ropes of the business”. After his stint in the navy, he returned to Knysna to join his parents in their screenprinting and signwriting business. “The first thing I did was to bring in technology. We computerised everything.”
The young Winde then started another nine businesses. “I’d spot a need and do the research and development. Every time I saw an opportunity, I started another business.” These included a bicycle company, a courier service, a travel firm and a resin and moulding business.
“In those days, if you wanted your bike serviced, you took it to the general dealer. There was no bicycle shop. A guy who worked at the general dealer knocked on my door one day and asked if he could work for me. I said, ‘come back tomorrow with a list of what we need to open a single-service bike shop.’ He brought the list and we started a bike shop. Today it is Knysna Cycleworks. It’s still going strong.”
When Winde saw a need for a courier service in Knysna, he started one. And so it went. “I never had all ten businesses at the same time. I always had two or three going, but then I would be doing the research for the others.”
Winde did not go to university. “I learnt through experience and hard knocks. I did short courses in finance and marketing to get myself up on things. That’s what it’s all about today. That’s what the e-learning platforms are doing for us as an economy.”
Winde recalls how, in 1996, when it was time for the rural and district council elections, only two political parties – the National Party and the ANC – made themselves available for the elections. “I was not interested in voting for either of them. I was away in Cape Town… and got a phone call from a friend to tell me that we had an independent candidate to stand in the elections – and that it was actually me!
“We had to form a political party, so we formed the Outeniqua Independent Party. We made banners at my tarpaulin company, then shipped them over to our screenprinting company; we printed posters and pamphlets. My office became an election office.”
Winde won the seat, which covered a constituency from Plettenberg Bay to Mossel Bay.
“When I got to council the first time, the ANC mayor in Knysna said, ‘If we nominate you for Mayor, will you take the seat?’ I was shocked. Suddenly I realised I was the swing vote between the ANC and the NP. I had to suddenly figure out what politics was all about. I was 29. It was all good fun!”
Winde served as a councillor on the South Cape District Council and the Outeniqua Rural Council (which merged into one) for about two years.
“My sister did my accounts and every month she’d show me what I’d earned from politics – R750 a month – and then she’d show me my that my fax bill was more than I earned, never mind my fuel bill from driving around talking to people with problems. She said it was a very bad idea to be involved in politics.”
Just when Winde had decided to focus more on his businesses, he was asked by the leadership of the DP to run for the Western Cape Provincial Parliament.
“I decided to accept the challenge, resigned as an independent and started campaigning for the DP, becoming a Member of the Provincial Legislature in 1999. At that stage and for my first ten years, the DA was in opposition, apart from a short stint in a coalition government.”
For a decade after that, Winde served in various positions in the legislature, including as Chief Whip of the official opposition and as Western Cape Provincial Finance Chairperson.
In 2009, following the DA’s success in the provincial election, he was appointed Western Cape Minister of Finance, Economic Development and Tourism. In 2014, when the DA once again won the Western Cape with an even greater majority, Winde was appointed Minister of Economic Opportunities, in charge of Agriculture and Economic Development and Tourism. “From Day One it was about jobs, because South Africa is about jobs. Then, when we went into the election the second time, in 2014, Premier Helen Zille asked whether I’d be prepared to head up Agriculture and Economic Development – which together make quite a big portfolio.”
When Winde got into government, he sold all his businesses. “For most of my time in Parliament, I have not been involved in business and I have no shares in any business. I have to ensure there are no conflicts-of-interest, especially as MEC for Economic Development.”
Winde, who was diagnosed with Type 2 (lifestyle induced) diabetes ten years ago, took up cycling, changed his eating habits and lost 20kg. He is now a committed cyclist.
Although Winde works a 16-hour day on average, he is an avid reader and has “about 20 books” next to his bed, ranging from Sapiens (by Yuval Noah Harari) to Mandy Wiener’s book Ministry of Crime, to The Four-Day Working Week by Donna Stevenson.
|Alan and Tracy Winde|
When I tell him there’s a fat chance that as premier he will have a four-day working week, he responds: “Actually, that is the future. We already see it with millennials; I visited the Facebook headquarters in Silicon Valley and wished I was 20 years younger.
“Nobody there has a nine-to-five job, they’re all project driven. If you finish your month’s project in four days, you go home. That’s how you get innovation going.”
Imagine if we could have more jobs, fewer hours and a better quality of life. More people would have jobs. The Western Cape economy is tourism-focused. But tourism doesn’t stop at five o’clock or over weekends. Tourism involves a lot of shifts. So why is our economy not done in shifts?
Winde loves technology and innovation and is fascinated by the Fourth Industrial Revolution. “You just have to see what’s going on in our department in agriculture… with the guys who are working the drones.
“For me what’s exciting is that a lot of the tech entrepreneurs are staying here. Our region is becoming the Silicon Valley of Africa. That’s exactly what we need for future jobs.”
Winde’s wife Tracy has worked as a volunteer for years at the Iris House Children’s Hospice in Cape Town. “She is involved both at board level as well as in building relationships with the families of children in the hospice.
It is her passion and she works hard at it.”
The couple have two children, Jason, 19, a musician who is studying sound engineering, and Lauren, who is in Grade ten at Rustenburg Girls’ High School. Winde is chairman of the school’s governing body.
Winde says his guiding star is his wife Tracy, “who brings mindfulness, spirituality and ethics into my life. Her whole philosophy is that we must be true and right and do the right thing”.
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