South African Cities Support and Learning Network: briefing

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Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs

19 March 2002
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Meeting report

19 March 2002

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South African Cities Support and Learning Network

Chairperson: Mr Y Carrim (ANC)

The South African Cities Network project was initiated by the Minister as a response to challenges posed by globalisation and urbanisation. The project is planned to set up ways for cities to meet and learn from each other and network with partners. It is aimed at encouraging the sharing of information between cities and spheres of government. A Section 21 company is to be set up to run the project and a launch is planned for July 2002.

Mr Andrew Boraine, the Minister's Advisor on Cities, presented the South African Cities Support and Learning Network to the Committee.

The project was initiated by the Minister and is known as the South African Cities Network in short. It was initiated in response to globalisation and urbanisation. In the recent past a rise of supra-national governments such as the European Union has been seen which contribute to a more complex political world. In the last 30 years a blurring of national state boundaries has been noticeable.

Cities have assumed a more important role and have become focal points in a country's economy. A study in the President's office showed that twenty percent of magisterial districts based in cities contribute to sixty percent of the GNP. It is argued that administration of cities is not just of local significance but national.

The world is preparing for an urban future. It is predicted that 93 percent of urbanisation in the next 25 years will take place in the developing world. As a result it is expected that traditional big cities such as London and so forth, will not even come into the picture. South Africa is ahead of the world average in terms of urbanisation. The world average is about 55 percent while South Africa's urbanisation goes at the rate of about 65 percent.

The impact of the urbanisation trend is that while it creates opportunity for economic growth it also poses a threat of increased poverty and homelessness. These could be compounded by globalisation. The high level of wealth in cities and towns often masks poverty. Urban/rural linkages have as a result become imperative.

The cities in South Africa are structurally extremely inefficient due mainly to spatial development with the poor often found on the periphery of cities. This results in the need for government to subsidise the poor for transport and so forth.

Amongst others, the network's goals are to promote good governance and management. To analyse strategic challenges particularly in the context of global and national economy. The project has member cities and partners. The partners include national government, provinces with large urban areas, the private sector, universities and research institutes, organised local government, NGOs and CBOs.

Priority programmes of the network are economic development, institutional restructuring and service delivery, effective response to HIV/AIDS, urban transport strategies and urban indicators.

Economic development
The aim is to enhance competitiveness of metropolitan regions. To promote an integrated and multi-sectoral approach and to develop options for economic growth strategies. It has been noticed that cities tend to focus on small projects that are generally unsustainable and are more geared towards poverty alleviation than focussed on economic growth.

Economic development is also aimed at developing the understanding of the role of municipalities and to build capacity in them.

Institutional restructuring for service delivery
This programme would be subdivided into electricity. The plan is to look at the implications of the establishment of regional electricity distributors (REDs). Institutional restructuring would also take into account the impact of corporatisation.

Effective response to HIV/AIDS
This looks at demographic impact as fourteen percent of the population is in the cities. This also considers care and support of families, physical planning, development and housing. It also considers finance and budgeting; look at economic development and staffing.

Urban transport strategies
This programme examines accessibility to the urban economy and commuter transport. It also looks at economic competitiveness and commercial transport.

City development index
This is based on UN-habitat. It looks at developing a South African city development index. The plan is to draw up a national and provincial city development index. The focus is on being able to improve performance of cities as a whole.

Additional focus areas would be peer review pilot projects, e-governance for urban development and the world summit for sustainable development.

How the project will work
The project will facilitate meetings in which cities meet and learn from each other and network with other partners. It looks at sharing of information between cities and with spheres of government. It seeks to promote and monitor inter-sectoral and intergovernmental coordination.

There is a plan to set up research programmes. The project aims at leadership development and training. It would disseminate best practice and innovation and focus on peer review. The plan is to establish a Section 21 company to run the project.

Way ahead
A formal launch of the project is planned for July 2002. The company is in the process of being established. Programme activities have already commenced.

Ms GM Borman (DP) asked whether there would be any obligation on the part of cities to go along with the advice and strategies of the network.

Mr Boraine said municipalities are sovereign and the cities network is a voluntary system. Cities would participate in it as long as it adds value to them. It is not prescriptive. He pointed out that a website containing all documentation relating to the project will be set up.

A Member asked what the relation is between the functions of the network and the Major Cities Organisation and whether SALGA is part of it.

Mr Boraine said that the Cities Network has no relation to the Major Cities Organisation. He said SALGA has been invited to send a representative to sit on the Board of the Network.

The meeting was adjourned.


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