Stellenbosch and Silicon Valley

7 October 2015

Stellenbosch’s ability to become the Silicon Valley of South Africa is constantly being discussed in articles reporting the opinion of well-known and influential people.

A summary of articles from the past year and a half show consensus on issues that count in the town’s favour, such as the strong academic environment; the proximity of Cape Town International Airport; the agricultural economy; and the fact that it is home to several major companies.

Technopark, founded in the 1980s on the model of Silicon Valley is not the science park it was originally intended to be. Technopark still forms an anchor point, but other nodes, such as the Launch Lab of the University of Stellenbosch, are now part of the local areas for innovation.

Technopark 1

Stellenbosch, according to the experts, would first have to look inwards, however, before any Silicon Valley aspirations could be marketed to the rest of the world. Adequate measurable evidence that either the management of the town or the innovation economy could earn such a recognition remains lacking.  The enormous difference between rich and poor in the town, which hampers inclusive development, is another problem. Anton Rupert’s belief that “you do not sleep quietly while your neighbour is hungry”, is still applicable in Stellenbosch. Conversations with business and academic leaders show that they are aware of this and that an impetus towards greater inclusivity is present.

Another theme that emerges strongly is that municipal boundaries should be subordinate to economic growth and that cooperation with the greater Cape Town area would be essential for sustainable innovation.

In Die Burger of October 28, 2014, Prof. Christo Viljoen, referring to what Whelan had said three years earlier, wrote that, although what had been suggested had not happened, it was still possible, provided that the political will to realise the ideal could be reactivated.

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