Transforming Human Settlements and the National Space Economy

Where people live and work matters. Apartheid planning consigned the majority of South Africans to places far away from work, where services could not be sustained, and where it was difficult to access the benefits of a society and participate in the economy.

Although a great deal of progress has been made since 1994, South Africa is far from achieving the Reconstruction and Development Programme (RDP) goals of “breaking down of apartheid geography through land reform, more compact cities, decent public transport and the development of industries and services that use local resources and/or meet local needs”. Despite reforms to the planning system, colonial and apartheid legacies still structure space across different scales.

We need to respond systematically to entrenched spatial pattern across all geographic scales that exacerbate social inequality and economic inefficiency. In addressing these patterns we must take account of the unique needs and potentials of different rural and urban areas in the context of emerging development corridors in the southern African sub-region.

The state will review its household policies to better realise constitutional housing rights, ensure that the delivery of housing is to be used to reconstruct town and cities and strengthen and livelihood prospects of households. Active citizenship is the field of spatial development will be supported and incentivised through a range of interventions including properly funded, citizen-led neighbourhood vision and planning processes and the introduction of social compacts from neighbourhood to city level.

Planning in South Africa will be guided by a set of normative principles to create spaces that are liveable, equitable, sustainable, resilient and efficient, and support economic opportunities and social cohesion.

South Africa will develop a national spatial framework and resolve the current deficiencies with the local system of integrated development planning and progressively develop the governance and administrative capacity to undertake planning at all scales.

Transforming the national space economy

Southern Africa is transforming as cross-border trade increases and as infrastructure networks become increasingly integrated. The nature of settlement systems is also transforming. This requires a strategic response including a reorientation of attention to rapidly growing cities and greater attention to cross-border planning issues including environmental protection, water, security, energy and transport.

South Africa’s economic activity is distributed across four metropolitan regions and a network of cities, large towns and service centres linked by established networks of connecting infrastructure. However, the country also has dysfunctional and inequitable settlement patterns:

  • Many people still live in poverty traps, including the former homelands where less than 30% of adults are employed compared to 55% in cities
  • One in two households in rural areas depends on social grants or remittances compared to one in 6 in cities
  • Logistics and communications lines are long, increasing cost and difficulty of maintenance of infrastructure and movement of people and goods expensive

The Gauteng city-region has reinforced its national dominance and attracted growing migration. Coastal city-regions have seen a decline in manufacturing activities despite their favourable locations. Performance of smaller cities has been uneven, many of them adversely affected by the decline in mining and agriculture. Social grants have changed the economic structure of homelands. While rural areas are the most deprived in relative terms, urbanisation of poor households means that there is growing concentration of poverty in large urban areas in absolute terms.

 Differences in inequality within rural areas

The health and the wellbeing of the entire population depends on rural goods and services – food, water, minerals, energy, biodiversity, natural and cultural experiences, labour and land – but resources are becoming more limited.

Today, 40% of South Africa’s population lives in rural areas, of which a very small portion is self-sufficient or significantly involved in agriculture. Over the past two decades, the productive economy of rural areas has declined, with a sharp drop in agricultural employment. Some rural areas, particularly those near large metropolitan areas or transport corridors, have experienced significant economic growth. There are also signs of economic vibrancy in former homelands in retail, transport and construction as income grants have expanded local circulation of money.

There is extreme differentiation within rural South Africa which points to a need for a differentiated approach to planning. Some areas have declining or stagnating economies while others are even growing faster than urban centres. Some areas are receiving migrants and densifying while others have declining or static populations. Some areas are well positioned in relation to nodes and corridors of development whole others are extremely marginal.

The spatial concerns relating to rural development include:

  • High cost of providing services and infrastructure especially in remote, low density areas
  • Lack of suitable mix of land “urban” economic activities and infrastructure and governance in areas where densification occurs due to good transport systems
  • Current land use governance frameworks in rural areas discriminatory especially to women
  •  Lack of connecting infrastructure results in unrealised opportunities in a number of sectors
  • High-potential agricultural land is grossly underutilised
  • Short-term mining activities damaging high-potential agricultural land
  • Failure of land-reform programmes to take spatial potential into account
  • Lack of focus on infrastructure that connects producers to market
  • Weak mediation mechanisms to resolve spatial conflicts

Urban inefficiencies

Most South Africans live in a complex network of towns and cities which generate about 85% of all economic activity. Economic activity is becoming largely consolidated in the largest cities however, activities including high-skilled professionals services are decentralising, creating opportunities for smaller urban centres.

The development of city-regions which extend beyond individual municipalities complicates urban planning and management, especially decisions on land-use management and the coordination of development activities.

Towns and cities are affected by a range of challenges:

  • Despite slower urbanisation than in other parts of Africa, an additional 7.8 Million  people will be living in South African cities by 2030 and another 6 million by 2050
  • The number of young people in cities is growing rapidly
  • South African towns and cities are highly fragmented, imposing high costs on households and the economy
  • The growth in property value has led to an overall average house price that has made housing unaffordable at many South Africans, and has further excluded participation in the property market by historically excluded groups
  • There is insufficient understanding in policy of the informal and adaptive strategies and livelihoods of the poor.
  • Transport networks are critical to the spatial transformation of urban areas
  • City concentration requires the development of large sources of energy and water and good transport connections which can place strains on the surrounding natural environment
  • Towns and cities are not productive enough and do not generate sufficient jobs
  • Numerous challenges are due to insufficient institutional capacity , a lack of string instruments for implementation and a lack of coordination

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