GOVERNANCE

Urban revolution

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Urbanisation has been linked to the current issues facing local government with regard to overpopulation in cities, but how has this phenomenon changed over the past 20 years since 1994?

With the many issues local government is experiencing regarding overpopulation in cities, and the way it is linked to urbanisation, we might find it interesting to look at how this phenomenon has changed and progressed over the past 20 years since the advent of democracy in South Africa

To get to grips with what these issues entail, we need to look at how they have precipitated the challenges local government officials face today. The South African social crisis, as it is referred to by Jacklyn Cock in a scholarly article published in 2007 titled, “Sustainable Development or Environmental Justice”, can be described as the “growing gap between the discourse of rights and the reality of the needs which were not met”.

The growing trend in urbanisation, overpopulation and the way the link between the two contributes to issues such as lack of service delivery, housing and social issues such as xenophobia can be better understood by an examination of this trend.

Looking at urban migration and how it has increased over the past 20 years, it should be noted that post-apartheid legislation has opened up more of a free flow for immigrants to enter our cities and urban landscapes. This trend was discussed in a Synthesis Report, released shortly after the violent xenophobic attacks of 2008, by Sally Peberdy, illustrating these trends in urbanisation.

She looks at how they are linked to the new policies that allow easier access to, especially, fellow African citizens’ migration to South African cities that was restricted during apartheid.

Asylum seekers and refugees are now much more readily allowed to enter our borders.Besides foreign residents occupying an increasing amount of urban space, rural-urban migration trends have also significantly made an impact on the number of people living in our cities.

Cities continue to be important social, cultural and economic hubs and are still seen as the wishing well where those fleeing an increasingly unsatisfactory rural lifestyle come hoping for a more promising life.

The result is the growth of informal settlements and townships across SA which has been increasing at an alarming rate. The onus rests on city planners and local government to address needs arising, for example, city planning, housing and service delivery.

Additionally, health issues arising from poor living conditions among these groups have increased significantly over the past two decades with HIV/Aids and associated illnesses such as tuberculosis having a profound impact on mortality rates.

According to a paper released by the International Institute for Environment and Development United Nations Population Fund in October 2012, compiled by Professor Ivan Turok, there are a number of lessons other countries can learn by looking at urbanisation in South Africa before 1994.“South Africa’s experience since 1994 holds important lessons for other countries undergoing urban transition.

Formulating progressive policies, passing laws and creating city-wide municipal institutions are not enough to harness the potential of urbanisation and to ensure integrated urban development.

Broad policy aspirations and sectoral programmes need to be translated into focused city-level strategies that deliberately align housing, transport, land use and economic decisions within a long-term vision of a better future.

Such strategies also need to engage local communities, the private sector and other stakeholders, in order to channel their energies in common and
constructive directions.

“People moving to cities may have to organise themselves to press for the removal of barriers that prevent them from securing better living and working conditions through access to urban labour markets and well-located land on which to settle.

The creation of constitutional rights for the poor can help to promote their cause, especially if backed by political will and sufficient government resources. “Equally important are determined city-level leadership and investment plans to manage urban development more effectively, to boost jobs and livelihoods, and to work with poorer communities to improve essential services,” Turok says.

With increasing urban trends in Africa, South Africa has been no exception to the many social issues arising from this phenomenon. Twenty years into democracy our cities’ borders are more accessible to all and it is up to local government to deal with the challenges of integrating the various groups that reside within city borders – together with the responsibilities associated with service delivery and urban planning.

Nilo Abrahams

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