Defining urban cities in South Africa: What does urbanisation mean to us? - Lumec

February 13, 2019by Thembi

President Cyril Ramaphosa’s August 2018 address at the National Assembly suggested that future South African (SA) cities will aim to alleviate the burden of apartheid’s spatial design from the poor. This relates to the cost associated with travel to and from work, as well as the time spent in the commute between work and home.[1] Additionally, future SA cities need to be places of wealth generation and productivity. A productive city is one that can offer most of its citizens with the opportunities necessary to have decent livelihoods.

Urbanisation is defined as an “increase in the proportion of a population living in urban areas” and a “process by which a large number of people becomes permanently concentrated in relatively small areas, forming cities”.[2] The World Cities Report 2016[3] suggests that rapid urban growth is a global trend. However, this growth brings greater complexities to problems that already exist in cities; problems such as urban services, housing, rising inequality and exclusion, as well as issues of safety and security. Presently, 55% of the world’s population is living in urban areas.[4]  Northern America has the largest share of persons living in urban areas (82%), followed by Latin America and the Caribbean (81%), Europe (74%), Oceania (68%) and Asia which has an urban population of roughly 50%[5].  Africa on the other hand, still remains largely rural with an urban population of 43%.[6]  Future trends suggest that since 90% of the world’s population is found in Africa and Asia, the growth in the global urban population will be mostly driven by Africa and Asia. However, delayed urbanisation, coupled with at a lower income rates than other developing countries has put African cities and policy makers under more pressure. While urbanisation in Africa has been delayed, it gives African countries the opportunity to learn from the mistakes and successes of other regions such as that of developing Asia and take full advantage of urbanisation as an engine for growth and development[7]. In addition to urbanisation acting as a catalyst for development, United Nations Habitat urges governments to use urbanisation as a tool to achieve transformation and sustainability[8]. This is of particular importance in the South African context due to distorted economic power and activity.

It is important to note that according to the State of Cities Report 2016[9], urbanisation does not only refer to metropolitans such as the City of Johannesburg, eThekwini and Cape Town, but also refers to places with urban characteristics. For instance, secondary cities such as Rustenburg, George and Polokwane, as well as small towns like Alice and Harrismith. The productivity of a city is heavily reliant on its spatial make up which also includes small towns and their linkages to bigger cities.

What then is the current state of our cities? SA cities account for almost two-thirds of the country’s economy and are responsible for more than half of its employment. The legacy of apartheid’s spatial division based on race, displacement of black people from urban areas and their controlled access into urban areas based on labour demands, and dispossession of ownership to land are fundamental issues that persist in cities[10].  While there has been significant investment made towards transforming cities, the result has been reinforced inequality, exclusion, and poor integration.

Ultimately, the nation’s goal to have ‘compact, coordinated and connected cities’ is both a social and an economic imperative. That is, to increase spatial efficiencies, to bring people closer to employment opportunities, to rebuild families, and to restore dignity by enabling people to have and build homes[11].

[1] The South African. (2018). President Ramaphosa addressed parliament on Wednesday: Five talking points. From: https://www.thesouthafrican.com/president-ramaphosa-parliament-22-august-2018/

[2] OECD. (2003). Glossary of Statistical Terms. From: https://stats.oecd.org/glossary/detail.asp?ID=2819

[3] UN Habitat. (2016). Urbanization and Development: Emerging Futures. World Cities Report. From: http://wcr.unhabitat.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/02/WCR-2016-Full-Report.pdf

[4] United Nations. (2018). World Urbanization Prospects: The 2018 Revision. From: https://population.un.org/wup/Publications/Files/WUP2018-KeyFacts.pdf

[5] United Nations. (2018). World Urbanization Prospects: The 2018 Revision. From: https://population.un.org/wup/Publications/Files/WUP2018-KeyFacts.pdf

[6] United Nations. (2018). World Urbanization Prospects: The 2018 Revision. From: https://population.un.org/wup/Publications/Files/WUP2018-KeyFacts.pdf

[7] Jones, P. (2015). Done right, urbanisation can boost living standards in Africa. From: http://theconversation.com/done-right-urbanisation-can-boost-living-standards-in-africa-41191

[8] UN Habitat. (2016). Urbanization and Development: Emerging Futures. World Cities Report. From: http://wcr.unhabitat.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/02/WCR-2016-Full-Report.pdf

[9] South African Cities Network. (2016). State of South African Cities Report. From: http://www.sacities.net/state-of-cities-reporting/socr-2016

[10] South African Cities Network. (2016). State of South African Cities Report. From: http://www.sacities.net/state-of-cities-reporting/socr-2016

[11] South African Government (2018). President Cyril Ramaphosa: Reply to questions in National Assembly. From: https://www.gov.za/speeches/president-ramaphosa-says-land-reform-key-stability-22-aug-2018-0000

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