Tim Harris is a man who’s earned himself a holiday. As CEO of Wesgro, the economic development agency for the Western Cape, he’s been at the coalface of coronavirus response in the province, working to keep local businesses afloat and people employed. No easy feat in the middle of a pandemic.
But then he’s no stranger to the cut and thrust of public life. With a Masters in Economics from the University of Cape Town under his belt, he joined the DA in 2004 to help formulate economic policy. On the back of the party’s electoral gains in 2009, Harris served as an MP until 2014, two of those years as the shadow minister of finance.
Today his talents, energy and head for numbers go towards promoting economic development in the Western Cape, steering a course for calmer waters amid the storms of Covid-19.
Wanted asked him about the neighbourhood spots he’s missing most, and where he’s dreaming of escaping to when he finally clears his diary …
Lockdown has taught us to love our local ’hood. Tell us about yours…
We [wife Cara Louise and their two daughters] live in Tamboerskloof; just below Signal Hill and just above Kloof Street. It’s an extraordinary little corner of Cape Town because we are surrounded by Table Mountain National Park, but it takes just six minutes to get to work in central Cape Town.
We’re all dreaming of a haircut right now. Any tips for a good barbershop in the neighbourhood?
I’ve been going to Shanti o’Hagan and her salon Mop Hair at 9 Orphan Street for about 15 years. She rocks. For beards there’s no one better than Byron Taylor who must have the smallest barbershop in Cape Town at 59a Long Street. I need to get back to both of them urgently.
Which is your favourite building, or piece of architecture in the city?
Some of my favourite buildings and spaces are on the 1km stretch from the Taj Hotel in the old Board of Executors building, up to the Mount Nelson Hotel. The Company’s Gardens run along the whole distance and provide a backdrop to iconic buildings like the Centre for the Book, the French consulate in Queen Victoria Street, and the beautiful quadruple-volume Library of Parliament with its spiral staircase.
The corner of the city that sums up Cape Town as one of the world’s centres of diversity and tolerance has to be the corner of Loop and Orphan streets where – if you look up – you will get a postcard view of Table Mountain framed by the cross of the Lutheran Evangelical Church on one side, and the Coowatool Mosque on the other.
What does a Saturday morning look like for the Harris family?
Most weekends we take our daughters and the dog down to the east city. If anyone tells you Cape Town is elitist and not diverse then take them on a walk around this precinct and they might have to rethink.
We start with the city’s best breakfast at New York Bagels, where we take over a large table in the corner with friends, and coffee, and drawing. If it’s rainy we’ll head up to the Book Lounge for the weekend story time [Saturdays 11am, no charge], and if it’s sunny we go straight over to Clifton First – “the dog beach” – for a few hours on the beach.
This routine is only ever broken by early-morning missions to Muizenberg when the swell is small and the wind is offshore, and the seven year old and I paddle out to the backline and talk. Quite unusually for any surf spot anywhere in the world, there are often more women in the water than men, so I think my daughter thinks surfing is a sport for girls that boys sometimes do – which is all right by me.
What’s the long-weekend escape you’re planning for when the dust settles on lockdown?
With the family we can just about make a long-weekend trip to Great Brak, between Mossel Bay and George. My grandparents built a house on the island in the estuary of the Great Brak River and there’s no better place to unplug. The beach never ends, the ocean is slightly warmer than Cape Town, and the surf at Vic Bay or The Point is really consistent. The Wilderness Bushcamp nearby is the secret spot, with the best view of the Garden Route.
You met your wife in a bar… what was the watering hole, and what’s your order?
It was Bob Skinstad’s Billy the Bum’s in Claremont, which has long been replaced with a corporate office. I’m not sure too many people went there looking for a future wife, but mine just happened to walk in. That was back in student days when, for some reason, we all drank Carling Black Label. Today you’re more likely to find me drinking a Bain’s Cape Mountain Whisky.
Where would the one-time ‘sexiest man in politics’ book for a romantic break?
That is a very dated label! I left politics six years ago… but for my wife’s 40th this year we dropped the girls off at their grandparents and headed down to the Norval Foundation, which has a secret apartment for the artist-in-residence on the top floor. If you ask nicely you can book it and have the art museum all to yourself after they close the doors to the public. Start the evening with sundowners over the sculpture garden and end it – after dinner at the Skotnes Restaurant – with a slightly spooky walk down back down the dark passage to the apartment, watched by the sculptures of William Kentridge and Lucas Sithole.
Who are the locals at the table for your dream dinner party?
Cape Town’s biggest personality is probably Desmond Tutu. The depth of his history and experience shines through when he talks. Nic Rabinowitz edges out the stiff competition for funniest Capetonian. Brad Armitage – founder of Vida e Caffè, &Union and House of Machines – is one of the biggest change agents, and kicked off the development of Bree Street as a social hub. Yaw Peprah in our team at Wesgro is one of the best connected. All four have an awesome outlook on life and together would make a cool dinner crew.