We may have to turn to China for Fa­ther Christ­mas role


Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - ISSUES - WIL­LIAM SAUN­DER­SON–MEYER

THE tim­ing of US Pres­i­dent Barack Obama’s two-day state visit to South Africa was hardly ideal. Over­shad­ow­ing the po­lit­i­cal arena was a dis­tract­ing his­tor­i­cal back­drop: for­mer pres­i­dent Nel­son Man­dela’s fal­ter­ing but de­ter­mined strug­gle to live.

Both lead­ers were acutely aware that they had to avoid any per­cep­tion of in­sen­si­tiv­ity to the pre­vail­ing national mood of gloom. Nei­ther, how­ever, wanted to forgo what po­lit­i­cal trac­tion they could ex­tract from the visit: Obama to es­tab­lish an African legacy that un­til now has been vir­tu­ally in­vis­i­ble; Pres­i­dent Ja­cob Zuma to main­tain a feel-good mo­men­tum as the 2014 elec­tion ap­proaches.

The prospect of Zuma shar­ing a

APARTHEID trans­formed Cape Town from South Africa’s least to most seg­re­gated city. The clear eco­nomic and racial zones per­fected by apartheid’s so­cial engi­neers have sur­vived largely in­tact. Pre­dom­i­nantly white, wealthy res­i­dents live in the City Bowl and along the slopes of Ta­ble Moun­tain to the west and south, while the city’s “coloured” and black pop­u­la­tion is dis­persed across the Cape Flats and its flood­prone land, with black new­com­ers oc­cu­py­ing the worst ar­eas.

Th­ese racial and eco­nomic zones are clearly de­fined by ma­jor fea­tures of to­pog­ra­phy, of­ten “for­ti­fied” and en­hanced as a po­lit­i­cal bar­rier by apartheid plan­ning. One of the clear­est ex­am­ples is the belt of golf cour­ses, in­dus­trial land and trans­port in­fra­struc­ture that cor­dons off the wealthy South­ern Sub­urbs from his­tor­i­cally “coloured” sub­urbs.

Cape Town ex­hibits a stark po­lar­ity be­tween black­ness, poverty and dis­per­sal on one hand, and white­ness, wealth and cen­tral­ity on the other. Each of the dis­con­nects that so vividly mark the phys­i­cal city are trace­able to in­sti­tu­tional, po­lit­i­cal and mar­ket fail­ures that are harder to pin­point but no less real in their ef­fects. How­ever, where th­ese dis­con­nec­tions have been en­trenched and in­grained in the so­cial and phys­i­cal land­scape, op­por­tu­ni­ties and fu­ture prospects for con­nec­tion also be­come ap­par­ent.

The em­pha­sis of ur­ban de­sign­ers and those who shape the built en­vi­ron­ment must lie in di­rect­ing cities from a state of dis­con­nec­tion to­wards mean­ing­ful con­nec­tion.

The cur­rent tra­jec­tory of South African cities is, in part, to­wards sprawl and ex­clu­sive growth and away from sus­tain­able den­si­ties and in­clu­sion. This tra­jec­tory is, how­ever, not due to a lack of pol­icy and re­search. The prob­lem be­gins with the lack of align­ment be­tween the in­ter­ests of plan­ners, de­vel­op­ers and elected rep­re­sen­ta­tives.

Nancy Oden­daal, a widely pub­lished plan­ning aca­demic at the Univer­sity of Cape Town’s African Cen­tre for Cities, ob­serves that the timescale of pol­i­tics is elec­toral, while that of de­vel­op­ers fol­lows busi­ness cy­cles.

The plan­ner’s timescale, mean­while, is mea­sured in decades, and in the harm avoided (for ex­ist­ing and near-fu­ture res­i­dents) as much as in the good pro­duced. For this rea­son, plan­ners spend their po­lit­i­cal cap­i­tal in de­fence of con­stituents who “ex­ist” only in the fu­ture. Ad­di­tion­ally, prop­erty de­vel­op­ers re­main sub­stan­tially free to re­peat car-cen­tric de­vel­op­ment.

Elected rep­re­sen­ta­tives must drive a hard bar­gain against de­vel­op­ers, but fi­nan­cial and com­mer­cial naivety of­ten pre­vents this. The sys­tem as it’s cur­rently con­ceived is good at re­pro­duc­ing the sta­tus quo of rapidly de­liv­ered green­field hous­ing, typ­i­cally far from op­por­tu­nity and of mixed qual­ity. Most of­ten, it is the plan­ning pro­fes­sion that is left to ar­gue for the in­ter­ests of stake­hold­ers yet to be born or con­se­quences that will only man­i­fest over decades.

De­spite this bleak prog­no­sis, good projects hap­pen. Al­though the city still lacks a flag­ship suc­cess in pub­lic hous­ing sited close to a his­tor­i­cally wealthy sub­urb, Cape Town’s new trans­port in­ter­changes – such as the cel­e­brated Kuyasa Trans­port In­ter­change – of­fer some ex­am­ples of re­con­nec­tion, where apartheid moats and trenches have been filled in to make the city fab­ric con­tigu­ous. The suc­cess sto­ries tend to share cer­tain at­tributes: a sin­gle, wily leader, com­mit­ted to see­ing the pro­ject through; a de­gree of fi­nan­cial in­de­pen­dence, which serves as a de­ter­rent against in­cur­sions and in­ter­fer­ence from elected rep­re­sen­ta­tives, and the abil­ity to com­bat those in com­pe­ti­tion for the same re­sources.

The co­in­ci­dence of all three fac­tors is rarer than it might be. Oden­daal iden­ti­fies sev­eral changes that need to be made if plan­ning pro­fes­sions are to be­come more em­pow­ered and their ad­vo­cacy more suc­cess­ful. The first is a higher de­gree of flu­ency in the quan­ti­ta­tive as­pects of city plan­ning: the abil­ity to trans­late qual­ity of life and en­vi­ron­men­tal is­sues into hard statis­tics podium with Obama was not one to glad­den the heart. Could there be a more glar­ing study in con­trasts? On the one side there is the ur­bane, ar­tic­u­late and cere­bral Obama, and then on the other there is Zuma, who is none of those things.

In fact, the South African presi- dent ac­quit­ted him­self with aplomb. Zuma has an en­gag­ing de­meanour and even those who rub­bish his lead­er­ship must con­cede that it is dif­fi­cult not to like him.

He ap­plied this trait to good ef­fect, with win­ningly ful­some praise of the US pres­i­dent’s anti- apartheid cre­den­tials, re­spect for Obama’s em­pa­thy with his “per­sonal hero” Man­dela, and in sketch­ing flat­ter­ing par­al­lels be­tween the two men.

He en­joined Obama, some­what in­con­gru­ously, to have a “happy visit” to Robben Is­land, where “Madiba and many freedom fight­ers” had been held, mod­estly re­frain­ing to re­mind us that he was among those, hav­ing spent 10 years in­car­cer­ated there.

Be­yond diplo­matic niceties, how­ever, nei­ther man will feel par­tic­u­larly pleased by the visit. Obama, un­like the glory days of for­eign aid largesse presided over by Ge­orge W Bush, has a con­strained bud­get and the scope for grand ges­tures was limited. Zuma, for his part, will feel dis­ap­pointed that most of the as­sis­tance that Obama is dis­pens­ing – more than $7 bil­lion – will be con­ti­nen­tal in scope, ben­e­fit­ing South Africa only tan­gen­tially.

His likely de­gree of cha­grin can be dis­cerned in the am­bi­tious shape of his hopes.

At the start of the visit, Zuma set out a lav­ish wish list, much like a young­ster cov­er­ing all bases with Fa­ther Christ­mas. There were, he said, a whole range of “bank­able projects” on the ta­ble.

Zuma fan­cied that Un­cle Sam might be en­ticed to de­liver in­fras­truc­tural de­vel­op­ment; youth skills de­vel­op­ment; in­vest­ment in the School Ca­pac­ity and In­no­va­tion Pro- gramme; in­vest­ment in pri­mary ed­u­ca­tion and teacher train­ing; and in­vest­ment in vo­ca­tional train­ing and the Fur­ther Ed­u­ca­tion and Train­ing col­leges. Oh, and by the way, an ex­ten­sion of the African Growth and Op­por­tu­nity Act (Agoa), sched­uled to ex­pire in 2015, would be nice.

Much of this was never go­ing to hap­pen, in­dica­tive of civil ser­vants hope­lessly out of touch with re­al­ity. Few donors are go­ing to chan­nel aid via state projects, given this govern­ment’s rep­u­ta­tion for cor­rup­tion and in­com­pe­tence. Fewer still will put money into state ed­u­ca­tion, given that the govern­ment is al­ready spend­ing 5.3 per­cent of GDP on this – among the high­est rates in the world – to pro­duce pal­try re­sults.

Zuma got his wish with Agoa, but noth­ing else. And since Agoa is an­other con­ti­nent-wide ben­e­fit, it’s a bit like be­ing gifted a board game that you can only play with your pals, in­stead of all the hot toys that you can play with on your own.

Zuma also urged Obama, given the eco­nomic and fi­nan­cial chal­lenges faced by the US and Europe, “to en­cour­age our tra­di­tional sup­port­ers not to aban­don their pledges to Africa”. Bri­tain’s re­cent de­ci­sion to end its R270 mil­lion an­nual for­eign aid to South Africa clearly still smarts.

Ah well, there are al­ways the Chi­nese to tap. They do be­lieve in Fa­ther Christ­mas, don’t they?


MUS­CLE: Taxi own­ers protest against the MyCiTi bus sys­tem. Such con­tin­u­ing op­po­si­tion is proof that thou­sands of com­muters’ in­ter­ests are held hostage by a smaller, but more highly or­gan­ised, nar­row-in­ter­est group, say the au­thors.

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