The Cape Chamber, which was formed in 1804, five years before Abraham Lincoln and Charles Darwin were born, celebrates its 215th anniversary on May 24.
Commercial methods were primitive and it was to be three years before the slave trade was officially ended and another 36 years before the first postage stamp, the penny black, was issued in 1840. Before that people paid to receive letters just as they now pay to receive e-mails.
It was a different world with different challenges and we not only survived them all, we thrived on them.
The last few years have been tough for business in the region, but we have been very active in our support for a healthy business environment for our 2 000 plus member companies. Prudent strategic choices in the face of adversity have enabled the Chamber to grow and flourish. The focus has been on innovation, our core strategy of engagement and the fact that – as seen in third party research – we have become more relevant with brand equity that has grown substantially.
The Chamber has a proud record of innovation, support for a free Press and lobbying for progress on matters like railways, postage, banking services and spectacular new technologies like the telegraph. In fact, the Cape’s first telegraph station and the first telephone exchange were in the Chamber offices in Adderley Street. We were the voice of business in 1804 and we still are today.
In many ways we are still fighting the same battles as we did 215 years ago. Business is the accelerator and government is the brake. Working together can be really difficult but we think even the government is beginning to see that what we now need is more accelerator and less brake.
What else happened in 1804? Oh yes, it was the year Napoleon crowned himself emperor in Notre Dame Cathedral, but that did not end well. The Chamber, on the other hand, continues to thrive and is now the oldest organised business association on the African Continent.
We look forward to the next 200 years and they will be dramatically different to anything we have seen so far, but we relish the challenge.
President of the Cape Chamber