African growth ‘depends on inclusion’

18 September 2012

African countries will have to create more equitable and inclusive societies, especially in terms of education and spatial urban planning, if they are to enable faster development, says South African National Planning Minister Trevor Manuel.

Addressing the Planning Africa Conference in Durban on Monday, Manuel said it was necessary to achieve these interventions on a regional, national, sub-national, city and neighbourhood scale.

“Political decision-makers need to create space for planning norms and standards, failing which those with spending powers will do as they please, and the people of Africa will remain poor,” he said.

He also said loops in local government democracy needed to be closed. “Very often planners visit communities with councillors to elicit views but seldom return with responses. This breeds mistrust.”

A different perspective for transformation

The National Development Plan handed to President Jacob Zuma last month set out to address inequality and the elimination of poverty.

These were not new challenges and were not uniquely African or South African, Manuel said.

Poor education outcomes and distorted spatial patterns are other challenges facing South Africa.

“Both these factors have been known to policy makers and planners since the dawn of our democracy. Yet it seems we have not made much progress in addressing them. Throughout the continent, the spatial patterns have not progressed far beyond what the liberated Africa inherited from her colonisers,” he said.

“To take Africa forward, we need a different political perspective and planners who appreciate the enormous burden they bear of physically transforming their societies.”

Manuel added that planners need to be cognisant of challenges that lie ahead with around half of the world’s population already living in cities and the number set to increase.

For South Africa it is estimated that eight million more people will live in cities by 2030.

“The economic and health imperative to plan for and create sustainable cities is not a luxury; it is a necessity if the 21st century is to provide a secure and sustainable way of life for a world population that over the next four decades will increase by a third.”

Making the right planning decisions

The continent is also expected to experience unprecedented levels of urbanisation.

“Whether or not this delivers benefits for the people of Africa depends on whether the profession of planners is able to rise to the challenge,” Manuel said.

It also depends on whether political decision makers create the necessary policies to enable planners to make the right planning decisions.”

Deficits in infrastructure, entrepreneurship, human resources, science and technology are some of the issues still faced by the continent, even though progress has been made.

“Africa has also witnessed a substantial improvement in economic performance, with average GDP growth of 5.6% between 2002 and 2008, making Africa the second- fastest growing continent in the world at times.

“In order to sustain growth, African governments need to continue to promote good governance, make the most of the demographic potential of its youthful population and prepare for increased rates of urbanisation. Industrialisation and investment in infrastructure and human capital is also critical,” Manuel said.