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Building a fair city that everyone wants to call home


Herman Mashaba is the leader of ActionSA. Mashaba is the former executive mayor of Johannesburg and founder of the People’s Dialogue.

Building on last week’s theme that ‘the souls of black South Africans’ themselves are on the line under Jacob Zuma’s national leadership, we need to identify precisely how metro leaders can re-energise South Africa’s economic soul from the ground up at the city level.

In formulating an authentic vision for our cities we need – to quote the sleuth detective, Sherlock Holmes – to consider the metaphorical dogs that did not bark, as well as those that did. Recently, I went down to Cape Town to watch Mr Zuma’s State of the Nation address, and the parliamentary debate that followed it – as well as last week’s Budget Speech statement. There was much barking, to use the Holmes metaphor.

An intergalactic visitor from another planet might not have deduced from these debates that we have a constitution that provides for three co-operative spheres of government: national, provincial, and local. National decision-makers failed to articulate a vision for our cities to turbo charge the moribund economy. Group think, panic, and knee-jerk reactions have descended on the national body politic like a heavy fog.

Since being selected as the DA’s Johannesburg mayoral candidate, this is exactly why I have attempted – Sherlock Holmes style – to work out why a city that once outstripped the country’s GDP growth, is now holding the national economy back. Why is Johannesburg not igniting South Africa’s growth?

Our first observation is almost banal, but essential. The incumbent ANC Gauteng Premier, David Makhura, and ANC’s Johannesburg Mayor, Parks Tau, have two conflicting and competing plans, which are leading to policy inconsistency.

Looking at a satellite map of Gauteng, you will see a striking picture of inequality and a lop-sided economy, strikingly little altered since 1994. A night time blaze of light in the centre (Johannesburg), and on the extreme peripheries you will see how little progress has been made to build an inclusive and integrated economy or nodes of growth out of the apartheid-planned urban hubs.

Mr Tau’s ‘Corridors of Freedom’ strategy would, in theory, densify Johannesburg and bring citizens back to the centre through an affordable and integrated transport system. Successful peer cities in the global South, like DA-led Cape Town, and, on a much larger scale, Sau Paolo and Bogotá, are successfully implementing variations of this approach.

Not to be outshone by his metro counterpart, last year Mr Makhura launched the Vaal River City Development (“hydropolis”) that is being built to the south of Johannesburg in the Sedibeng District. In theory, this would be the first of his five Chinese-style mega cities. While the vision of an “aerotropolis” around OR Tambo International might make good sense, new cities in areas with weak or declining economies could simply lead to apartheid-style poverty traps and commuter towns.

Now, let’s inject a dose of realism.

Bloomberg says that China boasts 15 mega cities – defined as cities with population larger than 10 million – famously driven by China’s unique version of state-led capitalism (or ‘socialism with Chinese characteristics’, to use Deng Xiaoping’s phrase). However, the fastest economic growth is happening in areas with populations of 1.5 million to 5 million people.

Yes, that’s right: in cities with populations similar to Johannesburg, Cape Town and Durban.

Arising out of this, it’s clear which policy approach is more likely work to in Gauteng. “It is elementary”, as Sherlock Holmes told Dr Watson. Most urban scholars in the world today agree that it’s better to integrate existing urban areas – most especially in Johannesburg – that remain divided due to the apartheid spatial legacy. New satellite cities may make sense in the context of extremely high urban densities, for example, in China or the Middle East, but is hardly sensible in low density Johannesburg.

Here, we need to bring development and business to the communities that aren’t in the ordinary commercial centres, and make travel to job opportunities much easier and cheaper

However, Mr Tau’s plan cannot get off the drawing board because it clashes with Mr Makhura’s plan – who himself is locked in political combat with Mr Zuma. Even Sherlock’s creator couldn’t make this plot up.

Compare and contrast this with the seamless elegance of how the DA-led city of Cape Town and the Western Cape Provincial Government work together through the Intergovernmental Co-ordinating Forum. The activist Mayor, Patricia de Lille and the activist premier, Helen Zille (a one-term mayor of Cape Town herself), are unwinding apartheid’s spatial legacy through integrating existing urban areas.

Housing close to rapid transport arteries thus becomes a driver of fairness, inclusion, and reconciliation. That’s why, for instance, Ms Zille announced a multimillion-rand construction project of a mixed-use neighbourhood in her State of the Province Address last week, which will contribute towards addressing Cape Town’s spatial legacies of apartheid.

Happily, we also have a proven example in Gauteng that this densified approach also works here – and it’s not region bound. Less than 20 miles kilometres from Johannesburg, the DA-led Midvaal Municipality stands tall as the best governed municipality in Gauteng. It is rated as offering the highest quality of life in the province; ranked first in Gauteng for providing basic services; and, most dramatically, boasts an unemployment rate 8% lower than the of the province’s 26%.

Drawing on the DA’s institutional experience and knowledge of unwinding apartheid’s spatial planning and turbo charging growth, we are developing a tailored and localized vision for Johannesburg.

If elected this year, the city of Johannesburg under the DA will target growth by 2017 of up to 5%. This is the rate of growth rate that economists say is needed to cut through the structural conditions that produce large-scale mass poverty and inequality.

In addition to the title deed promises we have made, investor-friendly culture, public service centred officials, and corruption-busting proposals that I’ve already outlined in DM, we will also pursue a densified and open business approach to turbo charge Johannesburg’s economy.

How will we remove the ANC’s roadblocks to opportunities, and build a fair city that everyone wants to call home?

We will audit all city-owned land and buildings to kick-start an economic revival, and bring citizens into the embrace of the city. Unused buildings will be put to use in place of expensive leases, and free space will be made available to small business and entrepreneurs. Small businesses will receive preferential and specialised treatment, like rebates and low rents. To bolster real broad-based empowerment, large supply-chain and procurement tenders will be carved up into a set of smaller contracts, so that many small businesses can compete for them fairly and transparently and large scale tender corruption can be a thing of the past.

While it is hard to predict the ‘invisible hand’ of the market, and much harder to predict winners and losers, we’ll create an enabling market that plays to the city’s strengths and historical growth drivers – for example, the financial services.

Peer Indian cities have been able to play to their strengths, such as in the business process outsource (BPO) industry, call centres, and IT. We’ll also show some chutzpah. Why is (we’ll ask the Chinese outright) Addis Ababa getting the lion’s share of footloose Chinese capital investment, and not Johannesburg? Not to mention South African entrepreneurs who hold billions of rand on their balance sheets, but are reluctant to invest in the present climate. Investment does not knock on the door – you’ve got to chase it.

Our approach will entail less grandiose, but more practical and tried initiatives, like skills-based training to feed the new businesses and services, and realistic re-industrialisation strategies all backed by city incentives.

Above all, law and order will rule Johannesburg. Hijacked buildings will be upgraded into proper homes, slum lords will be targeted, and occupants will be treated firmly and compassionately – not ‘turfed’ out by the Red Ants.

After all, we serve because we believe compassion and fairness must win the day. DM


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