Interview with new head of Swiss State Secretariat for Economic Affairs SA

The Swiss State Secretariat for Economic Affairs (SECO) provides financial and technical support to the Vuthela iLembe LED Support Programme. Daniel Lauchenauer, new Head of SECO South Africa shares his views on the Vuthela Programme.



The Vuthela iLembe LED Support Programme was designed to improve the business enabling environment of the iLembe district to support inclusive growth and employment creation through a comprehensive and integrated series of interventions. Although you have only recently taken over the role of Head of SECO, South Africa, could you indicate early impressions of the relevance and appropriateness of this Programme or critical reflections from your fresh perspective?


I would like to express my gratitude for the opportunity to participate in this interview, particularly in light of the significance of the Vuthela iLembe LED Support Programme in our portfolio. The fact that my first project visit outside Pretoria brought me to KwaZulu-Natal highlights the importance we place on this initiative and my desire to gain a deeper understanding of its operations.

The Programme is an ambitious one, and I am aware that it has not been an easy journey to reach this stage. External factors such as the Covid-19 pandemic, public unrest, and natural disasters have undoubtedly contributed to the challenges faced. Despite these hurdles and the project’s complexity, the accomplishments are noteworthy, and I want to commend the municipalities for their dedication to the initiative. The municipalities’ commitment is a testament to the Programme’s relevance and confirms that the approach taken was appropriate. It is important to recognise that the municipalities’ involvement in the region’s economic development will remain essential beyond Switzerland’s direct support.


What lessons can be shared with the Vuthela Programme from similar programmes run by SECO elsewhere?


Three points I would like to mention here. Firstly, and I believe this is in line with the experiences so far, we have to be aware that reform processes take time. The Vuthela Programme has gone a long way in the past years, but there is still more to be done. Sometimes steps are incremental, and patience is needed. Secondly, the willingness to compromise can be challenging, especially when partners have different priorities or interests. However, it is essential to maintain open communication and dialogue throughout the process to ensure that all stakeholders feel heard and their concerns are addressed. Thirdly, the partnerships formed through the Vuthela Programme will have a long-lasting impact on the communities involved. They will help to build trust, cooperation, and social capital, all of which are invaluable in addressing future challenges and risks.


What lessons can be shared from the Vuthela Programme? What stands out for you as a key differentiating factor of the Vuthela Programme from other similar initiatives?


Undoubtedly, the institutional building and capacity development were crucial for the success of the Programme. They have also had a positive impact on the governance aspects, which is another essential factor for success underlying any developmental programme of this nature. Additionally, I would like to highlight the establishment of a dialogue forum for both the public and private sectors, which has created a “safe space” for discussing sensitive issues. This forum has been crucial for building trust and strengthening partnerships.


Do you foresee the Vuthela Programme being used as a template in other municipalities in South Africa or elsewhere to mount an integrated intervention to improve municipal finance, infrastructure planning and development, creating an enabling environment for private sector development as well as skills development for SMME development, and strengthening partnerships?


When we started the Vuthela iLembe LED Support Programme our objective was to pilot a comprehensive LED approach with a significant emphasis on governance and framework conditions. Looking at the successes but also challenges encountered, I am confident that many elements and lessons can be replicated and applied to other municipalities. Nevertheless, it’s important to note that there is no guarantied formula for development success through copying and pasting. Therefore I refrain from calling it a “template” which can be replicated to other areas. The need for holistically addressing development challenges at multiple levels however remains a crucial determinant for success.


Would SECO consider running a similar programme elsewhere in South Africa or in the developing countries that it supports?


Building on my previous response, we do not believe in a one-to-one replication approach and have no intentions of implementing such. Nonetheless, we see ourselves as a learning organisation and always take the lessons learned and success factors into account when designing new interventions, not only in South Africa but also in our other partner countries.


Any other critical comments you would like to add?


Although the current phase of Switzerland’s direct support for the Vuthela iLembe LED Support Programme is concluding, we have not reached the end of the road. There is still work to be done, and it’s even more vital that local partners take the lead. Switzerland’s economic development cooperation is not abandoning iLembe and KZN. We intend to remain engaged and continue to collaborate on various levels. Additionally, I’d like to highlight that the embassy of Switzerland together with Trade & Investment KwaZulu-Natal are organising a business seminar on 11 May 2023. The event will focus on investment opportunities for Swiss companies in KZN, as well as vice versa.