The government has outlined its vision for an all-inclusive South Africa, where urban rooftops in metropols are used for food production, preparation and distribution for pop-up music performances, and poetry nights.
A number of development corridors and ‘anchor towns’ in South Africa have been earmarked by the government as areas for potential growth, with plans to support and fund them under a new draft spatial development plan.
The Department of Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development this week published a notice of the Draft National Spatial Development Framework (NSDF) in terms of Section 13(4) of the Spatial Planning and Land Use Management Act, 2013 (SPLUMA) for public comment.
The NSDF, among other things, aims to address historical spatial imbalances in development; and has identified a number of ways to change the country’s landscape for inclusive growth.
The development plan includes a ‘2050-National Spatial Development Vision’ as tangible expression of what the desired future will entail once the Post-Apartheid National Spatial Development Vision, Logic and Levers have been put into action.
South Africa in 2050, the government said, will look something like this:
It is April 2050
A year earlier, during South Africa’s 55th ‘27 April-Democracy Celebrations’, the 75th million South African was born in the Buffalo City urban region.
This massive urban conglomeration, is one of the ‘big four’ urban conurbations along the South African east coast, that are now jointly home to more than eight million South Africans. These four urban conurbations have grown rapidly – their growth equalling that of the Cape Town urban region, with its more than six million inhabitants.
Despite their rapid growth, they are still a long way off from the Gauteng.
11 urban conurbations
In contrast to days gone by in which large parts of metropolitan South Africa were described as lifeless and boring, these areas are now hives of activity.
Three-to-six storey mixed-use buildings are the norm in the buzzing former inner-city areas and along dense activity-streets in many of the suburbs of these erstwhile cities. Rooftops are in most cases used for (1) food production, preparation and distribution, (2) pop-up music performances, (3) poetry nights, and (4) plays.
Some of them are used for solar and wind energy generation, alongside a myriad of other ways of doing so (1) on buildings and verandas, and (2) in larger commercial energy farms on high-lying areas and in the ocean, alongside the numerous thriving aquaculture projects.
Trade with African countries along the east coast of the continent, as well as with India and China, has boomed over the last three decades.
In contrast to days gone by, this is far less in the form of the export of raw commodities, some of which are no longer shipped, such as coal, due to international carbon-trade-bans dating back to the early 2030s.
These days, South Africa is a major exporter of a wide range of high-value hand-made high-fashion clothing, jewellery, art, furniture, foodstuffs and beverages, which have become highly sought after in countries where nearly everything is made by machine.
A key contributor to this new dawn for South Africa was the unveiling by government in the early 2020s of its massive and hugely successful ‘Smart Reindustrialisation Programme’ and its ‘Eastern South Africa Development Plan’.
Driven by (1) the evermore-pressing drought in the western and north-western parts of the country, (2) the unfulfilled and deferred promise of the democracy that was won at such a high cost, and (3) the enormous agriculture, industrial and settlement development opportunities that lay east, and that were unlocked by the massive ‘New Land Reform Programme’ of the 2020s, government acted swiftly and decisively.
And now, 25-30 years on, this is the outcome.
Transformation at scale
The massive national-led ‘macro-restructuring and development plans’ not only resulted in shared economic growth and poverty alleviation at scale, but also assisted in inculcating a culture of ‘all-in’, targeted, integrated and coordinated planning.
Out the door went untargetted, unplanned and unintegrated investment by government and the private sector, and the wastage of time and money by everyone pursuing their own plans and projects in their own backyards.
In contrast to the early days of SPLUMA, when the introduction of the new suite of spatial planning instruments had very little impact on ridding the country of the legacy of colonial and Apartheid planning, the Act is now (1) used as intended, and (2) respected by government, communities and the private sector alike.
In addition to the positive impacts the macro-restructuring and development plans had on the national spatial development planning system, the success of these plans assisted in making South Africans believe that they can, and that it was possible to develop a truly transformed, liberated and prosperous post-Apartheid South Africa.
The fruits of this freed-up, confident country are everywhere to be seen – from the dynamic interplay between (1) well-targeted, wise government investment and (2) innovative, organic urban growth and land development by communities, to the booming SADC region.
It is especially this regional bloc and the connections and free flow of goods, services and people that it has enabled, that have played a huge role in the national economic growth rate of on average between 3% and 6% since the mid-2020s.
The benefits have not only been felt on the national level and in the big urban areas, as also smaller towns and rural areas have gained from it.
Thinking SADC, nationally and locally when planning and investing in infrastructure, played a huge role in this success.
A good life in urban South Africa
Life on the streets of urban South Africa is very different to the first two decades of the 2000s. In contrast to life back then, the streets are now filled with people and there is excitement in the air.
There are now also far fewer cars in the streets, and all you hear is people’s voices and music – walking and cycling are now the most popular means of moving around, and the electrical buses and taxis barely make a noise.
Instead of pavements packed with cars, there now are (1) many small places to eat, (2) salons where you can have your hair done, (3) little shops selling anything from fresh produce to health foods, (4) research, education and innovation institutes, where knowledge and ideas flow freely, and (5) art and culture academies, where young artists are primed, and where you can enjoy music, poetry and short plays and buy paintings and sculptures.
And it is here, in the vibrant streets and surrounding public spaces that never sleep, where many of the more than 75% of South Africans who now call ‘the city’ their home, make a life and live much of their lives. It is also here where South Africa and the rest of the world meet – where you see faces and hear languages from all over the planet.
Many of these voices are those of tourists who love the vibrant and unique cosmopolitan atmosphere, and who have made South Africa one of the top ten tourist destinations in the world for the last 26 years in a row.
Again, it was the foresight and decisive actions of government in the 2020s that succeeded in growing the sector into one of the largest and most dynamic in the country.
A good life in rural South Africa
Rural South Africa is also in a very different shape to what is was in the late 2010s when it was a hard place to grow up in, money was tight, jobs were few and government services in many places non-existent or weak.
This all started changing for the better when government launched its grant-funded ‘National Spatial Restructuring Priority Plans’ in the early 2020s, with their focus on developing ‘functional rural regions’ throughout rural South Africa, and which entailed the carefully planned roll-out and provision of quality services in each of these regions in a systemic way in accordance with government’s so-called ‘social services wheel’.
In many rural towns, there are now clinics, police stations, schools, arts and culture academies and sporting facilities, and even the smallest villages have lightning-fast communication networks.
Hundreds of thousands of graduates deployed over the many years as interns, researchers, and tutors to rural schools, also assisted in making these plans a success.
Very soon trade connections between smaller places in rural South Africa started growing, which soon saw the development of strong rural regions in areas where once there was little else but destitution and despair. At the same time, with the growing movement of millions of retired South Africans to rural areas, the economies of these places have been given a strong and stable financial injection.
A young, free and creative country
Today, 56 years into democracy, South Africa is finally beginning to enjoy the full dividend of freedom and is fully able to (1) harness the energy, creativity and vitality of its many young people, and (2) fuse it with the innovative flares and creative blazes of young people from the rest of the continent and all over the world.
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