Urbanisation is a reality

Zweli Mkhize says that successfully dealing with this trend requires long term planning

Urbanisation is a reality. Let us plan for it proactively says Dr Zweli Mkhize, Minister of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs

1 November 2018

The Ministry of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs and the South African Cities Network hosted the second South African urban conference this week in Johannesburg, from 30-31 October 2018.

The conference looked at how to better design and implement urban policies and interventions across our towns and cities. We were joined by the Departments of Human Settlements, the National Treasury, the Gauteng provincial government and the South African Local Government Association amongst other key partners.

The theme of the Urban Conference 2018, Activating an All-of-Society Approach to Implementing the Urban Agenda – or #IUDF #allofsociety, demonstrated that the urban agenda is one that must bring all of us together to work together to find solutions. 

Government has embraced the reality of urbanization in our cities and towns. We are no longer debating whether or not we should be concerned about urbanization. The National Development Plan has estimated that by the year 2030, more than 70% of South Africa’s population will be residing in urban centres.

I have had several engagements with traditional leaders who have expressed concerns that through this assertion, the government intends to turn all rural areas into towns. We have indicated that urbanization is a phenomenon that is taking place all over the world. The NDP is not reflecting a wish but is facing a reality that is unfolding in front of our eyes. In short, urbanization is a reality.

Ours is to decide whether we will allow our towns and cities to be swamped and overwhelmed by unplanned urbanization, or government will be proactive and plan way ahead of urban migration.

Unplanned urbanization has brought us huge challenges, such as the proliferation of informal settlements with attendant difficulties in provision of basic services and the inability to provide safety for communities and as a result rising crime levels. This causes unstable communities where poverty levels are ever increasing.

Thus our approach to dealing with urbanization requires long term spatial planning in the whole country, urban and rural areas alike. We require a long term master plan for the country that will be comprehensive and spanning over several decades to come. Planning must be for the entire society, for long term. Planning for three to five years at a time, just won’t cut it!

The first thing we must realize is that population migration has been with us as long as human existence, as societies migrate to escape poverty, hunger and to avoid physical harm brought by wars and famine; in short migration is always in search of a better life.

All the people who have migrated to cities in our country have done so in search of prosperity, either business or job opportunities and as a result access to better basic amenities and services, such as water, better sanitation, electricity, better housing, access to educational, health, recreational facilities. Most tend to do so to escape harsher rural conditions where there is a relative lack of development.

What makes our situation worse thus requiring urgent correction, is that our urban centres were designed under apartheid urban spatial planning that deliberately excluded black communities through a variety of laws that declared our towns and cities no-go zones for the majority of our people. So, for many decades our people, dispossessed of their land were locked in the labour dormitories and were only allowed to temporarily sojourn in cities as long as they provided the labour that kept an artificially higher quality of life to urban, mostly white urban dwellers in exchange for low wages.

A myriad of laws prohibited urban migration, thus creating an artificial barrier between the different communities of our country. Our reality since colonialism was that of urban affluence for white community and poverty for blacks in rural areas and townships.  

The advent of democracy and freedom necessitates an urgent process to reverse apartheid spatial planning and settlement patterns that artificially defines poverty and informal settlements as reserved for blacks only. This is the source of the triple challenge of high levels of poverty, unemployment and inequality. It will be impossible to expect this triple challenge to vanish automatically without addressing its major structural causes.

A myriad of laws, by-laws, policies and programmes have to be deliberately designed and implemented to reverse apartheid spatial planning and at the same time, get South Africa to respond to the global trend of rising urban migration. This is urgent!

This then requires a combination of disruptive intervention as well as futuristic planning!

Our task as leaders and actors across society is to anticipate the needs of our urban population, coordinate our efforts and curve a path to an urban future that is collectively envisioned: a future that envisions cities that are distinct yet liveable, vibrant and sustainable.

We will know we are successful with our urban agenda if we improve the quality of life of those who live in townships and informal settlements. While South Africa is rapidly urbanising– many townships and informal settlements are still poverty traps. 

We have a responsibility to fix challenges facing municipalities to enable the improvement of the quality of life. We should fix the governance as well as financial management issues such as audit outcomes, fraud and corruption, and infrastructure issues such as backlogs in service delivery. All these must be resolved as that would create a basis for economic recovery in the country.

We need a new planning mind-set wherein every municipality needs to know that efficient service delivery, reliable and resilient infrastructure and well-managed councils are a pre-requisite for investor attraction and therefore these are issues we need to deal with. On top of that we must ensure that we utilise the IUDF wherein we bring more communities to the centre of economic activity, where we reduce the outward urban sprawl so that you no longer have a situation where the richer you are the closer you are the urban centre and the poorer you are, the further you are from economic activity.

That approach to planning means that municipalities must urgently take stock of land within the urban centres wherein new settlements should be encouraged in order to avoid government responding to unplanned illegal settlements and land grabs. The advent of legislation on land expropriation must be part of armament to solve and reverse apartheid spatial planning creating sustainable urban settlements within cities and towns. This requires urgent action.

We are now also called upon to correct the challenges of aging infrastructure as well as the expansion of new infrastructure and services to new community settlements at the same time.

This requires us to ensure collaboration between public and private sectors where infrastructure backlogs must offer opportunities for private sector investment to define how we improve our towns and municipalities as we go into the future.

This also means that we need to engage the mining companies so that we can creatively utilise our resources in building new infrastructure. We must utilise the mining social labour plans to create proper towns and eliminate shacks and informal settlements in areas in which rich mining companies are operating. It should be normal for employees of mining companies to look forward to owning property in the form of urban houses or flats in their own name as they get employment in the mines.

This would require a shift in how our human settlements are planned and a shift in the mind-set of our human settlement planning. We should move beyond the current model of subsidised housing or RDP houses to embrace mixed housing models such as densification for sectional titles or flats for lease. We must utilise subsidies that mining companies offer their workers and open up opportunities for private sector investment into the housing portfolio.

We have already started discussions through our Inter-Ministerial Committee on service delivery to look closely at the integration of various departments and municipalities to enable value addition as we tap into resources that mining companies are obliged to offer by law. The IMC has taken an approach that would ensure proper alignment and integration of plans and implementation of social infrastructure programmes across all spheres of government. We are currently focusing on 57 high priority municipalities where R57 billion is being spent to improve infrastructure and expand new services as well as correcting historical misalignment between bulk and reticulation of services.

We are talking to various private sector stakeholders in search of funding models to accelerate the refurbishment of faulty infrastructure such as sewerage treatment plans and the connection of bulk water to reticulate water to nearby villages.

We are doing this in line with the President’s stimulus package announced recently wherein the private sector is called upon to invest in government infrastructure. The President indicated that we should look forward to blended financing and an open-minded approach to involve frontloading of conditional grants, spatial purpose vehicles or even concessions to crowd in private sector investments.

Managing urban migration also involves building stronger and more resilient rural economies. As we were approaching the recent Presidential Investment Summit we have kept a close interest in the attraction of investment into rural areas and focusing on issues of agriculture, agro-processing, municipal and social infrastructure, tourism mining and others. 

It is important for us to speedily resolve the concern of traditional leaders around the issue of the Spatial Planning and Land Use Management Act (SPLUMA), because there has to be a plan for land utilisation and management for every piece of land be it urban or rural in order to ensure that we have a common approach to providing services to our people and building local economic development opportunities.

This also is important because services have to be rendered in rural areas as well and traditional leaders have to be engaged and supported to manage the growing population and demands for additional infrastructure in rural areas.

We need a different approach to the investment into rural economies wherein major investment projects should be deliberately located in some of the smaller, poorer communities which would otherwise remain as perpetually unviable municipalities. Currently more than 26 industrial parks have been refurbished by the Department of Trade and Industry and this means all municipalities and provincial government must focus on the planning that is needed for each and every rural community and rural town and municipality so that there is a balance in the investment in infrastructure and community services in a way that will make it possible for more investment to be attracted in those areas.

A town like Lephalale has no reason to have an uncontrollable sprawl of shacks and informal dwellers and has to be made an example of post-apartheid spatial planning based on equal access opportunities. We have an opportunity to show what the future should be like.

In this regard we shall be engaging mayors and traditional leaders to ensure that we all embrace a common approach to land utilisation planning.

We have to deliver more infrastructure and services to under-serviced areas and deal with poverty, unemployment, inequality and the legacy of apartheid spatial planning. In this way, we will ensure that our people have a good quality of life, whether they live in metros, townships or rural areas.