South Africa has almost the same number of people living in informal settlements now as it did in 1994, Minister in the Presidency Trevor Manuel said on Wednesday.
“This is in spite of the fact that government has provided nearly three million houses during the period,” he said in a speech prepared for delivery at the 2013 metropolis annual meeting in Sandton, Johannesburg.
Urban populations in Africa had almost trebled in the past 50 years, and according to the Census 2011 results, Johannesburg increased by 1.2 million people between 2001 and 2011.
In his 2012 state-of-the-city address, Johannesburg mayor Parks Tau put the city’s population at 3.6 million.
“This significant rate of growth, the largest in our South African cities, is a signal of a trend, rather than of the uniqueness of Johannesburg,” Manuel said.
Most of the urbanisation was taking place in informal settlements or slums.
“What this means is that people who migrate to the cities find city life alienating in all forms.”
People were unable to find suitable accommodation in the city closer to their work, and resorted to informal activities on its physical and economic periphery.
A smaller percentage of new arrivals were able to afford city life.
“Even people who hold formal jobs battle to live in our cities. The poor tend to live on marginal land, in unplanned areas that are consequently poorly serviced; distances are huge and transport costs expensive.”
The meeting heard that cities were places of creation, wealth, opportunities, and of new ideas.
“We need to recognise that there is much wrong with the expansion of our cities in the developing world. Consequently, issues of spatial design, efficiencies, and management become extremely difficult.”
Many of South Africa’s older cities were designed for small groups of expatriates, he said.
“The requisite skills, especially in areas such as planning, were not readily available, so governance priorities tended to focus on what was exigent and possible, given available skills and finance,” he said.
“In a country like South Africa, cities were designed for the colonial elite, albeit that they were resident, rather than expat, and for those who were needed to maintain that elite in style.”
The rest of the population were hidden and controlled by the “perversion of influx control legislation”.
Manuel said he had a “fair idea” of what the distant future ought to look like, but the transition would be difficult.
“We must be bold in reversing these trends.”
Government needed to act and plan ahead, he said.
“We need to urgently devise and implement credible plans to intervene and make our cities inclusive; and bring the majority of citizens of our cities into the mainstream and not the periphery.”
He said people needed to be educated and equipped with skills to take advantage of opportunities in cities.
Documents for the vision of the country and the continent had been drawn up. These included the National Development Plan, provincial plans, and the African Union plan.