A BRAND NEW SMART CITY, MR PRESIDENT? REALLY?

This article appeared in the 26 June edition of Legalbrief Today, under Policy Watch

Image result for urban poverty south africa
This is not a South African city – nor even a smart one, since it does nothing to address the issue of urban poverty and slums. The point being that smart cities do not and never will solve those problems … especially in a developing country.

The increasingly dismal state of local government finances and the worrying attitudes of many of the senior officials responsible may have prompted President Cyril Ramaphosa to qualify his remarks in last week’s State of the Nation Address (Sona) about building a smart city. Responding to a debate on the contents of his speech, the President said the notion belonged more ‘in the section on a future and desired reality’ than in the ‘section on dreams’. This is noting that, even if urbanisation and population growth rates remain their present levels, within the next decade ‘an extra 10m people’ will be looking for work and somewhere to live in SA’s cities.

According to the President, each ‘successive wave of people’ arriving in the country’s major urban areas lives further from their centres, services, transport infrastructure and any available jobs. ‘This situation is not sustainable and, unless we find effective solutions, it’s only going to get worse,’ he warned, reminding his audience of the ‘significant backlogs in housing, schools, clinics and social services’ faced by ‘almost all’ the country’s cities. This presented a perfect opportunity for Ramaphosa to elaborate on any plans he and his government may have for finally and decisively addressing the myriad challenges facing SA’s local authorities, including the culture of non-payment for services. After all, the President made it very clear during last week’s Sona that ‘the days of boycotting payment are over’. But alas, nothing more was said on the matter – at least in the official version of Ramaphosa’s response.

Meanwhile, Auditor-General Kimi Makwetu was busy painting a deeply depressing picture of local government in which he conceded that ‘the quality of the financial statements provided to his office for auditing’ continues to deteriorate (News24). Especially troubling is that the ‘audit environment’ is becoming ‘more hostile’ (News24), with municipal authorities often pressurising audit teams to ‘change’ any findings pointing to negative audit outcomes or irregular expenditure. ‘Threats’ and ‘intimidation’ are apparently being experienced in ‘most’ provinces.

It is not clear from media reports on yesterday’s debate and the President’s input if any opposition party MPs asked how government intends financing the construction of a new ‘smart city’ – and how it will be maintained once built. Poor infrastructure maintenance has been a concern for many years, as successive Ministers of Finance, Public Works and Cooperative Governance have openly acknowledged. Ramaphosa would do well to confront this issue and the shockingly high levels of financial mismanagement across local government before saying anything more about a new smart city – which will need smart people to run it.

HOW REALISTIC ARE THE PRESIDENT’S ELECTIONEERING PROMISES?

This article features extracts from one that appeared in the 2 May edition of Legalbrief Today, under Policy Watch

I often wonder what the late Eric Molobi, co-founder of Kagiso Trust Investments, would have thought of all the shenanigans associated with the ruling party. Having begun his political career with the Black Consciousness Movement, he changed allegiance after a spell on Robben Island – where he was apparently ‘re-educated’ at the knee of none other than former President the late Nelson Mandela. What would he have made of recent utterances by President Cyril Ramaphosa, whom he knew well?

Here’s what I wrote for Legalbrief Policy Watch:

‘We continue to work on the land issue. We continue to make sure that the resolution … passed at our conference in 2017 is implemented so that we return the land of our forebears to the people of our country. That, comrades, is going to happen without … fail.’ President Cyril Ramaphosa made this commitment during a Cosatu Workers’ Day rally in Durban on 1 May 2019 (IoL) – just seven days before South Africans go to the polls to elect the country’s sixth democratic administration. While, at the time of writing, the only video footage of the President’s remarks on land reform ended mid-sentence, he is reported to have linked them to the prospect of ever-increasing employment opportunities in the agricultural sector (News24).

Although the full text of the speech has yet to be made electronically available, according to media coverage Ramaphosa’s other pronouncements touched on economic transformation (so that ‘people can enjoy the bounties of the country’); the minimum wage (‘all companies must implement it without fail so workers can start moving away from poverty wages’); rape (‘I call upon men to offer respect to women of the country and offer them the honour they deserve’); gender parity in the workplace (members of the tripartite alliance are ‘in a position to push for equal pay, equal training and promotions for women’); and passenger rail transport (‘we want you to go to work with ease’). Meanwhile, government is busy ‘cleaning up’ at Eskom, which is ‘in repair mode’. Those ‘accountable’ will apparently ‘have to face the music’.

In the context of recent announcements on the Department of Rural Development and Land Reform website, Ramaphosa’s remarks point to the distinct possibility of yet more unfulfilled expectations on the part of ordinary South Africans. Here’s what I wrote in Legalbrief Policy Watch just a few days before they were made:

Since January, news items on the Department of Rural Development and Land Reform website have regularly featured two issues of considerable significance in the context of land restitution: farming equipment handed to rural communities and fraudulent land claims. While smallholder farmers have this month alone received implements and other ‘production support’ worth ‘millions of rand’, during the same period the department was obliged to allay concerns about illegal developments on state-owned land in Polokwane. There was an ‘unfortunate incident’ in the same area during February, when false reports of claims on land in Centurion also surfaced. While it is not clear what, if any, action has since been taken, expectations have been raised that may well be unrealistic. Can they be managed?

Given the poor state of most farms returned to the descendants of their pre-colonial occupants, perhaps media statements on equipment and support provided to emerging black farmers should focus less on rand value and more on effective use, maintenance and potential returns. Since his post-ANC national executive committee speech last July announcing a dramatic policy shift on land expropriation, President Cyril Ramaphosa has repeatedly assured South Africans and the international community that escalated land reform will not impact negatively on food security. Yet reports on recent ‘hand-overs’ are worryingly superficial. Last Friday, when a ‘production support unit’ was launched in the Harrismith area as part of a ‘stimulus package’ apparently valued at ‘over R50m’, one beneficiary observed that the new machinery will make it ‘easy to farm’ and feed his family. Hopefully, it will accomplish a great deal more than that.