Volume 1 No 5 (2004)


HE PREVIOUS Isandla Development Communiqué reported on the Reading Group on City Development Strategy in Cape Town that Isandla Institute is convening. This has sparked quite a bit of interest and we have received a number of queries of people who would like to participate in such a forum. The idea of a reading group clearly taps into a need among busy professionals for spaces for constructive engagement and dialogue. More importantly, perhaps, is that the reading group compels these professionals from different organisational settings and professional disciplines to read. We are not suggesting that development professionals do not read at all. Most of us will read reports, pamphlets, newspaper articles and maybe even journals related to our areas of professional interest. But how often are we able to allocate a few hours to read thought-provoking pieces on broader development issues and dynamics that are not directly related to our projects and daily activities? Work-related pressures and the need to produce specific outputs often prevent us from prioritising our ‘intellectual sustenance’. How many of us have the experience of having a pile of interesting articles and books on our desk, without actually being able to get to them? In the end, these articles and books may be filed and shelved, in order to make space for another growing pile of interesting reading material.

However, not taking time out to read up on theoretical reflections on development policy and practice holds the danger of entrenching a ‘tunnel vision’ to our daily work, disconnected from broader reflections and learning processes. In the end, development interventions are likely to be outdated, unimaginative and poorly conceptualised, with limited impact in terms of achieving meaningful social change. Also, the people designing and implementing these interventions are likely to lack the necessary intellectual stimulation to remain inspired about their work and prevent some state of burnout. It is this realisation, coupled with the understanding that few busy professionals will find (make?) time to read unless a structured space for reading is created, that has informed the idea of starting the reading group in Cape Town. Based on the meetings held to date and the interest expressed by those who would like to participate in such a forum, it seems an initiative worth emulating in other places and with different thematic foci. Isandla Institute hopes to convene a similar initiative at national level next year.

For your immediate reading pleasure, this issue’s feature article in our Thought Matters section is written by Mirjam van Donk, who writes on the State of the Cities Report 2004 published by the South African Cities Network recently.


South African cities in perspective
by Mirjam van Donk

The significance of the recent State of the Cities Report 2004 can hardly be overstated. For the first time, there is a comprehensive yet accessible overview of recent urban development trends in the nine main urban centres in the country. But the report goes beyond highlighting facts, figures and trends; it also sketches the contours of a more comprehensive policy framework for urban development and makes a strong case for the development of a coherent urban strategy.

The report is published by the South African Cities Network (SACN), which is made up of the municipalities of Buffalo City (East London), Cape Town, Ekurhuleni (East Rand), eThekwini (Durban), Johannesburg, Mangaung (Bloemfontein), Msunduzi (Pietermaritzburg), Nelson Mandela (Port Elizabeth) and Tshwane (Pretoria). The SACN intends to publish the report on an annual or biennial basis.

Based on a comparison of Census 1996 and Census 2001, the report dispels a number of ‘urban myths’. One of these myths is that migrants are flocking to cities in droves, with the large metropoles as their favourite destination. Instead, evidence suggests that urban growth in the nine SACN cities is slowing down compared to only a few years ago. In fact, the report finds that the proportion of people living in the ‘Big 9’ is similar to that in 1946, namely just below 40% of the total population. Of course, we are talking about very different cities, not least in terms of size: between 1946 and 2001, the total number of people inhabiting the SACN cities has increased almost six-fold to 16.5 million. As the report further observes, urban growth is actually happening at a faster rate in some smaller (secondary) cities, like uMhlathuze (Richards Bay/Empangeni), Mogale City (Krugersdorp) and Rustenburg, which is not unlike regional and global trends.

The report dispels another assumption related to the myth about unbridled urban growth, namely that migrants to the city are almost by definition from rural areas. In fact, a quarter of migrants into the nine SACN cities comes from another SACN city and 50% of those leaving an SACN city have moved to another SACN city. Clearly, migration is a more dynamic phenomenon than generally assumed and is not particularly well understood.

An interesting phenomenon revealed in the report – consistent with the government’s Ten Year Review – is that there has been significant growth in the number of households over the past few years, which is disproportionate to the increase in the number of people living in the SACN cities between 1996 and 2001. In other words, existing households in these cities are splitting into smaller units. This trend has important implications for service provision.

Another persistent myth or perception is that poverty is largely a rural phenomenon. Yet, the report shows high and increasing levels of poverty and unemployment in South Africa’s cities. For example, in 1996 about one in ten households in the nine cities claimed to have no income; in 2001, this had nearly doubled to one in five. Likewise, urban unemployment increased from 29% to 38% - amounting to a total increase of over one million job seekers in the SACN cities. In some cities (Buffalo City, Msunduzi and Nelson Mandela), the unemployment rate was significantly higher than the national average of 45%.

The report also confirms what many of us knew or suspected: cities can be places of great opportunities for personal advancement and a good quality of life as much as places of exclusion, stagnation and a relentless struggle to survive. The gap between the ‘haves’ and the ‘have-nots’ has increased significantly over the past few years and, unsurprisingly, income inequality remains particularly stark along race lines. Inequality also has spatial manifestations, with poor communities generally located on the periphery of the city, in substandard housing, far from places of work or recreation, schools and shopping centres. It is clearly proving very difficult not to perpetuate the apartheid form of South Africa’s cities.

City governments are certainly not oblivious to the needs of their inhabitants and to the difficult challenges of promoting ‘productive’, ‘inclusive’, ‘sustainable’ and ‘well-governed’ cities, as outlined in the framework of analysis used by the SACN. As the report illustrates, significant progress has been recorded across the nine cities in relation to the number of households with access to water, electricity, waste removal and housing. At the same time, the report shows quite clearly the difficulties in keeping pace with new demand – in particular, the significant increase in the number of households. Thus, the number of households without access to basic services has also increased – in some instances at the same or even faster rate as the number of households serviced.

More importantly, perhaps, is the report’s stance on the limitations of pursuing urban development through an infrastructure-led approach. This is likely to cause some controversy, not least because there is enormous pressure to get ‘the basics’ right – a sentiment strongly endorsed in the President’s current drive to turn development into clear deliverables within the short to medium term. Instead, the report argues for a more comprehensive approach to social development that enables residents to share materially and psychologically in the benefits of city life.

Through its assessment of urban trends, development challenges and progress made, the State of the Cities Report 2004 has become a critical advocacy tool for all those concerned with the lack of appreciation for urban issues in national policy. The timing is opportune, as the Department of Provincial and Local Government is currently finalising the draft Urban Strategy 2004. The report also gives plenty of reason to critically engage with the draft Intergovernmental Relations Bill and its proposed instruments to facilitate intergovernmental collaboration. Clearly, the realisation of equitable urban development is beyond the powers, capabilities and resources of city governments. Area-based development requires the involvement of other spheres of government, but in practice intergovernmental collaboration has proven to be extremely difficult to achieve.

This short paper cannot do justice to the depth and breadth of issues covered in the report. It sets an excellent precedent for future reports on the state of South African cities. However, in my view the report suffers from three substantive weaknesses.

Firstly, the section on sustainable cities is not based on the same rigorous assessment of data and trends as other sections in the report. This is unfortunate, because the complex ways in which cities shape environmental outcomes (for current and future generations) and impact on the carrying capacity of the natural environment is a critical issue. To some extent, this can be explained by the fact that cities were unable to provide the requested data that would allow for a consistent analysis. But it also seems to point to the lack of a coherent analytical framework that would enable a more thorough analysis.

Secondly, although the report includes the occasional reference to HIV and AIDS, observations are limited to the anticipated impact of HIV/AIDS on demographic trends and to HIV/AIDS as a health issue. Despite this, projections that Gauteng is likely to become an urban region similar in size to the world’s megacities (particularly Lagos and Los Angeles) do not take account of the fact that about one in three South African adults living in SACN cities is currently living with HIV/AIDS. To be fair, HIV/AIDS is occasionally mentioned, but it remains ‘the big unknown’ – an unmeasured and as yet unpredictable factor for urban development. Even then, nothing is said about the implications of HIV/AIDS for poverty and inequality, gender relations, the local economy, planning and service provision (including the fact that a significant number of adults living with HIV/AIDS are likely to work for city councils and other spheres of government). Yet, HIV/AIDS is likely to pose the most fundamental challenge to urban development in years to come. Recognising HIV/AIDS for what it is – a development issue, rather than merely a health concern – requires it to be a constituent part of the conceptual framework (even if there are still many ‘unknowns’).

Finally, with the exception of devoting two short paragraphs to gender equality, women are invisible in the report. Sections on crime make no mention of gender-based violence or how women’s perceptions of safety affect their mobility, their ability to take advantage of socio-economic opportunities and their overall sense of wellbeing. A recent study on women in Johannesburg commissioned by the City of Johannesburg found that gender inequality is a persistent reality, with African women being most marginalised in many respects. Like HIV/AIDS, a gender approach to urban development is not an optional extra – it has to be an integral part of the analysis.

Hopefully, future State of the Cities reports will address these weaknesses.

T HAS BEEN very encouraging to receive positive feedback on previous Isandla Development Communiqués. Thanks to all of you who have sent us general feedback.

In his response to the previous Communiqué, Jens Kuhn writes:
I always enjoy ISANDLA communiqués, this one no exception. Africa's growth and prosperity, the Renaissance, economic development etc; the things theorists always are hoping and arguing for no longer depend on grand theories; there is no policy answer, no systems answer, to these questions. It is about building and holding public trust. Most of Africa, as with China, operates on private trust; family, cliques, clans, ethnic networks, etc. This must be broken if we are ever to reach the heights of development and wealth the advanced countries have. I believe the most important things for development theorists and commentators (like ISANDLA) to confront, and very loudly criticise, are incidences which erode social trust. Unfortunately such incidences are hardly ever grand, sweeping acts, or systems policy changes. They are small, often personal acts, such as King Zwelitini's insistence that his daughter receives a birthday car as part of a state contract. Or when Pres Mbeki buys 3 new Mercedeses for friends in Congo with SA taxpayers’ money, and regards it as part of peace initiatives. Moaning about these kinds of acts feels like street fighting and is beyond pure theorists’ dignity. BUT there will be no renaissance if we leave all that kind of petty complaining to the DA. SA has the system to create wealth and do so be including all citizens. Now we need quality and ethical leaders.


HE NEXT issue of our Dark Roast Occasional Paper Series is written by Ebenezer Obadara, who reflects on (mobile) technology as an instrument of social activism. The paper describes the process, impacts and challenges of a concerted campaign of mobile phone subscribers in Nigeria to address exploitation by GSM phone companies, which also throws up interesting questions concerning the role of the state. The Dark Roast will be available on our website within the next two weeks.

And for those who are flying this month: the August issue of Sawubona is featuring our book Voices of the Transition: The Politics, Poetics and Practices of Social Change in South Africa. Perhaps a good excuse to book that long outstanding trip to Maputo?

Contact details
PO Box 12263 Mill Street
Cape Town, 8001

Editorial collective: Edgar Pieterse, Katherine McKenzie
and Mirjam van Donk