Integrated Urban Development Framework can transform SA cities into economic engines

September 19, 2020

“We are a nation at one,” President Cyril Ramaphosa said in his SONA on February 16, 2018. “We are one people, committed to work together to find jobs for our youth; to build factories and roads, houses and clinics; to prepare our children for a world of change and progress; to build cities and towns where families may be safe, productive and content.”

The President’s mention of building our cities and towns is a timely one, because transforming our cities is the key to any strategy that seeks to end poverty, wipe out inequality, and offer housing, education, employment and opportunity to all in South Africa.

The year 2007 marked a significant event: for the first time in history, the number of people living in cities around the world equalled the number of those living in rural communities. Since then, the balance has shifted even further towards urbanisation: 63 percent of South Africans now live in cities, and two-thirds of our city dwellers are clustered in giant metros.

More than 64 percent of the youth, aged 15-30, live in cities. This makes South Africa’s high level of youth unemployment a problem that needs to be tackled in tandem with the transformation of our cities. As former Minister of Finance Malusi Gigaba put it in the Budget speech delivered a few weeks after the SONA: “Cities are the heart of the national economy and hold the potential to drive our economic renewal.”

“South Africa’s eight metros are home to 39 percent of our population, but account for half of all employment (formal and informal) and 57 percent of the country’s economic output. ...The economic importance of cities is likely to increase. ...We must take advantage of this dynamic to drive inclusive growth.”

Key to government’s urban transformation and renewal strategy is, of course, the IUDF.

Identifying urgent urban priorities

In pursuing a new deal for cities, South Africa is already internationally recognised as a leader in urban policy that aligns with the United Nations’ Global Sustainable Development Goal 11 and the New Urban Agenda. “The Integrated Urban Development Framework sets out government’s policy commitment to improving the productivity of South Africa’s urban areas,” Minister Gigaba said in the 2018 Budget speech. “Achieving this will require us to rethink approaches to South Africa’s urban development challenges, and to find new ways in which to stimulate faster and more inclusive growth.”

The first step is identifying urban-development priorities. The IUDF national working group will this year convene the jobs, social- and financial-sector summits that were called for by the president, to ensure that urban issues are placed squarely on their respective agendas.

The transformation of apartheid-created townships in South African cities will be a major focus. In addition, greater emphasis will be placed on embedding the IUDF in government and the firming up of institutional arrangements, as well as the development of an updated IUDF Implementation Plan together with the localisation of the New Urban Framework. In terms of implementation, a number of national initiatives will continue to support towns and cities with the implementation of the IUDF through pilot projects, the City Support Programme, the Intermediate City Municipality Programme and the Small Towns Regeneration Programme. In addition, the Integrated Urban Development Grant will be piloted this year.

As these programmes indicate, urban-development planning does not focus exclusively on large cities and metros. South Africa’s intermediate cities, that are smaller than the metros, towns and other urban settlements are still significant urban centres with potential. This year’s Budget proposes to introduce a new, more flexible grant-funding arrangement for these cities over the medium term. Municipalities will be able to opt to join this new grant, which will require more integrated long-term planning and a greater contribution to infrastructure investment from their own resources.

‘Whole of Society; Whole of Government’ approach Required

Something that both the Budget speech and the president’s SONA emphasised, is that government cannot implement the IUDF on its own, without the buy-in of the private sector and society as a whole. The IUDF requires a “whole of society; whole of government” approach to succeed, this will involve accelerated efforts to make South Africans aware of the framework and getting their cohesive support for it.

“We know that there is still a lot that divides us,” said the President in his SONA. “We have been given the responsibility to build a new nation, to confront the injustices of the past and the inequalities of the present. We are called upon to do so under difficult conditions.”

For the IUDF to be an effective strategy that will transform South African towns and cities into economic engines that will power their own spatial and economic transformation, everyone in government and all of society need to heed the president’s SONA call for commitment to an ideal: “Our task, as South Africans, is to seize this moment of hope and renewal, and to work together to ensure that it makes a meaningful difference in the lives of our people. ...We will do this by getting social partners in our country to collaborate in building a social compact, on which we will create drivers of economic recovery.”

Local city growth compacts offer an opportunity for towns and cities to bring together various urban partners to solve immediate urban challenges and realise the longer-term vision of the IUDF.

These partners have been supporting the IUDF:
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