Opinionista Yonela Diko 5 February 2018

Western Cape 2030: It’s time to re-imagine the future

As leaders in the opposition benches, given the leadership vacuum, it is on us, as the alternative government, to re-imagine the future.

If you had asked the leaders of the Western Cape in 1994 what the province of 2020 would look like, they would not have imagined that the population would have doubled, and that nature would not have favoured us, giving us multiple droughts over the period and putting strain on everything from living spaces to water and transport, schools and clinics, resulting in a much more polarised province.

It is possible that because the political pendulum of this province has been swinging for a different political party in almost every election, the contest for state power has been the only preoccupation of leaders with less time to re-imagine the future and plan for it.

First it was the National Party (NP) in 1994, too shocked to have won the elections to plan ahead. Five years later, still preoccupied with political survival, the National Party rebranded itself as the New National Party (NNP), and scrambled enough partners to form a fragile coalition which inevitably guaranteed that by 2004, they were a forgotten party.

The ANC took over in 2004, also with a coalition. Five years later, the DA tasted electoral victory for the first time in the Western Cape in 2009, with a small margin of 51%. It’s only in 2014 that the DA came back with a larger majority of 59%. The hold on power in this province has been tentative for all parties and this has resulted in a state of permanent campaigning, even when it’s time to govern.

It’s almost 2020, the two million people of 1994 are now four million, the biggest and busiest train line that takes at least a third of the 700,000 people who travel by train every day to work has not been working for almost a month. We are 60 days away from a water disaster whose consequences cannot be fully measured, our schools still reflect the apartheid divide with parents forced to lie about their addresses just to place their kids in more resourced and better serviced schools, some clinics are death traps, criminals are running amok and being mainstreamed, so that the Western Cape may well be the most unpleasant place to live in right now.

The other day Al Jazeera reported that a fight had broken out at one of these Cape Town water springs that are becoming survival buffers.

In all this darkness and gnashing of teeth, the risk we are running is that these challenges will once again absorb all our attention and the future, which comes one day at a time, will be exactly like the present. As leaders in the opposition benches, given the leadership vacuum, it is on us, as the alternative government, to re-imagine the future.

What kind of Western Cape do we want in 2030?

Anabela Abreu, World Bank country director for Haiti, say, “Effective policies and investments are key to building sustainable cities with the participation of citizens and local communities; future cities where economic opportunities go hand in hand with population growth.”

What investments must we therefore make now in order to make real the kind of Western Cape we want?

Coincidentally, Haiti’s urban population has grown from 3-million to 6-million in 15 years, putting a strain on affordable housing, running water, traffic and, most important, posing the question of how a city like Port-Au-Prince can build resilient infrastructure for urbanisation. On the other side of the divide the Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, is also imagining a London that will have less traffic, better transport systems and more bicycle spots to tie your bike. All this is an acknowledgement that our cities are growing and instead of letting that happen by accident and hoping for the best, we must imagine it and plan for it.

Imagining the future of the Western Cape must necessarily look into issues of community, built environment, infrastructure, technology and how these issues will shape this province if we harness technology properly. Technology is even more critical in how it helps us curb excesses and build different sets of resilient infrastructure.

How can Cape Town be developed to accommodate the population growth of the next 10 years? How can its built environment be structured to make all its residents to feel a sense of ownership and less exclusion? How can our resources be given a multiplier, through harnessing technology and instilling different cultures, so that those resources can last much longer?

Today’s challenge may be water, tomorrow it will be electricity, and the next day something else. The concept the City of Cape Town adopted a few years back but clearly never actually took beyond the design stage is that of a smart city. Given our challenges of urbanidsation, how do we deal with resource scarcity, demographic changes, climate change and, today, public austerity?

Patrick Russell’s research on imaging future cities mentioned three critical things: Smart Grid, Smart Economy and the Potential of human culture. No urban city should derive its source of power from one grid. A city must be supplied electricity from multiple grids. The very fact that in 20 years, only one water dam was build in the Western Cape, is an indictment of the leader’s inability to look into the future.

The issue of a smart city, sometimes called Anywhere City, where people can work from anywhere, has not been fully explored by authorities. Its implication for roads, traffic, accidents and crime can change the way we prioritise our limited budgets and how we use our resources. Then there are our politics and our governing ethos which have been anything but smart.

The real future Western Cape will come from the people. Without the people, the smart city concept becomes an elitist project that ultimately becomes esoteric and abstract, never to be realised.

As Linda Chandler, a Microsoft digital adviser, said, “People do not care about the underlying technology running their cities. Instead they focus on what they have (to) prioritise for centuries; quality of family life, education, jobs and societal legacy.”

In fact, I think we vote for others so that they can spend their time caring about the underlying technology that sustains things we care about. We don’t want to know the intricacies of how water ends up in our taps or showers, but we want it there. DM



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