An Interview with Alan Winde MEC

Minister Winde
Minister Winde

21st December 2015

Alan Winde is the Provincial Minister of Economic Opportunities for the province of the Western Cape in South Africa, and is responsible for the Provincial Ministry of Agriculture, Economic Development and Tourism. He is a a member of the province’s eleven member ruling committee, the Executive Council.

Q: How do you think Zuma’s failures in the last six months have increased your chances in the regional elections next year?
A: I think they absolutely have. Zuma’s failure from day one has really given us the growth we’ve been looking for over time. But lately, we’ve seen him mess up more and more often, and he has now gone past a tipping point. Initially, we went into next year’s elections knowing that Port Elizabeth and Pretoria were going to be close but possibilities, and that Johannesburg might just be a bit too far. But in only the last couple of weeks, I can see that Johannesburg might be a reality. The Western Cape has always been our stronghold, and I now think that we’ll win various municipalities dotted around the country, which is exactly what we need to be doing because 2019 is the next big year for us. Unless something really drastic happens and we see the general election come forward, 2019 is the next stage where we want to be in government. Like any political party, we want to get 51%.

Q: How do you think the DA has showcased their wider strategies for South Africa with their governance of the Western Cape?
A: In our first term, we were determined to get the basics right: it’s about good governance, so we cut out the wastage and made sure we put the right systems in place. We had to take the taxpayers’ money and make sure we spent it efficiently and effectively. And I think at the end of the first term, we wrote what we called the Western Cape Story, and really that was about good governance and getting good audit outcomes, making sure our budgets were spent without large spikes and without dumping money, making sure that corruption was cut out by passing legislation which said no official in government is allowed to do business with government. In a 52 billion rand business, you never know whether you get it all cut out, but I think in general, we’ve been a very creative, slick machine, and you can definitely see in all the national ratings that we’re always number one. And now we’re starting to see brand recognition coming through, so even those small brand surveys, if they ask you to give an example of good governance, the Western Cape starts coming up as a recognised brand of good governance. Now we’ve moved into our second term, and it’s really about upping the game. It’s about service delivery, we’ve been a democracy for 21 years and there are still so many people in South Africa saying ‘What about me? Have I got a future? Have I got a job?’ We’ve just seen a big uprising from our university students. They wanted their fees to fall and to have a cheaper education, but it was blown up in other places and I think frustration was felt by the general society. So it was the students themselves worrying about their fees, but it was also about relatives not being able to get jobs, families not having futures, and people being disgruntled with the quality of government provided services. It was a bigger movement, likened to the start of our own Arab Spring. That was quite interesting, and if you bring those two together, I think you can see that we are on the right path, and people are saying that it can actually work, and that’s going to be our next challenge: over the next three and a half years to build enough delivery that people can feel it.

A Selfie of Me with Minister Winde
A Selfie of Me with Minister Winde

Q: Do you think that a weaker rand will be a benefit or be a detriment to the Western Cape?
A: It’s a complex question. The rand has weakened since Zuma came to power. When he came to power, it was about 8 rand to the dollar [at the time of writing, it is almost 17]. The rand has recently weakened further due to him picking different Ministers of Finance. If I look at the Western Cape’s economy, a lot of it is agricultural process exports (such as wines) and tourism. A weaker rand does benefit both of those, but in the short term. In the long term, a steady and stable rand is what we need, and to achieve this, we need good economic policy and strong leadership.

Q: With the recent climate change agreement having been reached at the Conference of Parties earlier this month, how do you think reducing droughts in the Western Cape could improve its agricultural performance?
A: South Africa is now in its second year of drought, but in this province, it is only the first year. However, we also know that through climate change, this coast will get drier and the Pacific coast will get even more tropical over the next 20 to 30 years. Droughts, as they are now, are seasonal and linked to the El Nino effect. We still don’t know if we’re going to get out of it next year, but I think the message across the west coast is that we need to start farming differently, and I think we already are. If I go and visit all of the farms on the west coast, I don’t find farms which are farming in the traditional way where they plough everything up and plant every year; they’re all using conservation agriculture, they’re all water wise. This year, we’ve only had 47% of the normal rainfall, yet we’re only losing 25%-27% of crop output, so the conservation agriculture is working well. I think that everyone understands what is happening; we just have to make sure that we continue to manage in this way. I also think that the commodity types are changing, so agricultural activities are happening in places where we never thought they would. Things are changing, it’s not all doom and gloom, and I think the smart guys are the ones who realise that change is happening and farming must adapt to what nature is going to deliver to us over the next fifty years.

Q: What life lessons have you learnt over the course of your distinguished career?
A: During the first part of my career, I was an entrepreneur. I had ten companies, and then I got into politics, although I still don’t really know why. I’ve never had a dull moment. I think being in business was a good grounding for politics, where I now have a portfolio that deals with the economy. If I had to choose one important lesson, it would be to embrace innovation, because through innovation, we are going to be able to compete globally.

Q: What did you learn in your teenage years that you think has influenced your success?
A: Even prior to my teenage years, I grew up on a farm, and both my parents had multiple careers. My mother was actually the farmer and my father had a factory, so I had the two sides of a business environment. I think that growing up in that environment and listening to the dinner conversation around the table about bank managers and debtors and creditors made me think differently and about what I really wanted to be a part of. And if you link that to the South African context, we’ve got so many micro-enterprises in our country which are there because of necessity, because there are no jobs and the economy is not growing fast enough to absorb the number of people, and so people become entrepreneurs out of necessity. Children growing up in households where that happens will be inspired to become the entrepreneurs of the future. Our entrepreneurship levels are currently too low, but I think my parents’ example helped me. Also, my father liked to give responsibility, rather than hold it, so from a young age, he would give me the responsibility for various things, and that was a big lesson. I think that too often, people don’t assume responsibility.

Q: Is there anything you wish you had done which you didn’t do when you were my age?
A: I suppose if I did it again, I’d do exactly the same, although if I had to do it again I’d like to know what I know now and then do it again – obviously, that’s not possible. I’d do everything the same and follow the same path.

Q: Who is the most interesting person you’ve met, and why?
A: I’ve met so many interesting people and they all bring such different things to your life as you’re moving forward. I don’t know if I could narrow it down to one. Just last week, I met an investor from India called Analjit Singh. He had the most amazing vision, and I am certain that getting to know him better would really enrich my life. The way he sees things, I think, will have an influence on me over time. People I haven’t met have also had an impact, sometimes through reading their autobiographies. For example, I loved Steve Jobs’s book. Another is Archbishop Desmond Tutu, an amazing guy to talk to. Also, Trevor Manuel or Angela Merkel. There are so many people I come across in the life I lead at the moment: meeting people from around the world, meeting influential people who have done many things. I think that you pull little pieces from each person and each experience that you have.

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