A Pan-African Economic Revolution


We are living in challenging times. These are indeed dangerous times. Millions have perished around the world as a result of the Covid-19 Pandemic, which was first revealed in China at the end of 2019. It has since spread across the world, infecting and killing millions in its sweeping tirade. As we grapple with this virus and its fatal blows, we also need to pause for a moment and reflect on why this global mayhem is facing us at this time. Scientists are hard at work trying to make sense of this. As social scientists, we too bear the responsibility to understand, from our own vantage point, what exactly is facing humanity at this moment. This is the context within which the book:
New Cities New Economies, South Africa and Africa’s Grand Plan has to be viewed.

My submission is that the human world had grown too imbalanced, skewed by global inequality between races, classes and nations. What is going on right now with the ravaging effects of the Covid-19 pandemic is a process of righting the wrongs, leveling the playing fields, creating the necessary equilibrium that can usher in a new societal order. We are in the midst of a revolution, a war. This is the moment best described by that old South African adage: Ukuwa kwenye ukuvuka kwenye (the fall of one thing enables the rise of another). If humanity responds accordingly and recognizes this period as an opportunity to right the wrongs of the past, the past before Covid-19 pandemic, then the millions of lives lost might go down in history as not having being lost in vain. If, however, humanity refuses to recognize this as a turning point in the life of humankind, then, no doubt, humanity is due for even greater pandemics in the future.

It is easy to sing a common chorus of despair regarding the massive disruptions that have been occasioned by the COVID-19 Pandemic. The reality is that society is made up of different social classes that have been affected differently by this Pandemic.

The global elites, that is, those who command the global economy and their immediate beneficiaries are undoubtedly feeling the greatest pain of this pandemic. The global economy has been hugely impacted upon by the manner in which nations have had to respond to the pandemic. It is now a known fact that the closure of trade borders across the world as a means for the reduction of the spread of the corona virus has yielded negative consequences for the global economy as a whole. The most affected by this development are those who had been at the helm of the global economy; those whom global trade had been exclusively benefitting.

If this is indeed the case, the question should arise as to why the poor and poorest of the world have also suffered major blows and setbacks as a result of what is being argued here to be a corrective measure? Well, for far too long the global elites have had the poor as their shields, enabling the sustenance of their inhumane machinations. Again this is best understood through another South African adage: Amandla asemasebeni (Power is with the people). How so in this regard? The wealth of the global elites is enabled by the billions of consumers of their products, some of whom are at the centre of their very production – the suffering workers of the world. What makes the global elites wealthy is the consumption of their products by billions of people around the world. Hence the power of change also resides in the hands of the people. Who will be able to shift the balance of power will be able to do so through the mobiliasation of the people, for the people hold sway, through their labour and buying power.

Unfortunately in every war there are casualties. To get to the brains behind the aggression that is at the centre of the war many soldiers fall in battle. Hence many poor people are also dying as a result of this devastating pandemic that is at the same time leveling the playing fields of global inequality – charting a new societal order.

Also, the poorest of the world have not had much to lose, as their lives were already a catastrophe of abject poverty, unemployment and underdevelopment. At most, what the poorest of the world have suffered is the loss of loved ones, who have perished as a result of this pandemic. As such the vehement attack on humanity by the corona virus pandemic demands of us to see it as the most profound protest against global inequality?

The new normal, which has been projected post the pandemic, should not merely be a new normal in so far as the nature of work is concerned, it should be a new normal against inequality, which had become an unfortunate normal way of life in many countries prior to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The massive shifts that are expected in world power relations post the corona virus pandemic should arguably turn patterns of prosperity in favour of the hitherto marginalized groups of people across the world. The economic eco-system should have been disrupted in such a manner that it becomes balanced. This balancing act is what I believe should be the biggest outcome of the corona virus pandemic. This cataclysmic event is what will balance the scale of war; the global war against inequality.

But only those who are able to interpret and interact with the shift are the ones who will benefit from the expected dividends of this shift. It can be argued that every group that has become dominant in society got there by exploiting opportunities that were brought about by shifts in the global balance of power as a result of disruptions from monumental calamities.

In the context of South Africa, this is equally a moment to capture the opportunities that have arisen as a result of this pandemic. The catch is that only those who correctly interpret the situation and act in ways that ensure a resultant benefit will be favoured by history. This is the moment that South Africa can galvanise to address its historical ills, which continue to bedevil the nation. There is a danger if the attitude of the ruling class will be to wait for solutions from elsewhere. Another danger is that of committing all available resources to deal only with the immediate challenges posed by the pandemic and not make medium to long-tem investments that would herald the new economy.

The New Cities New Economies thesis that the book under profile proposes should be seen in light of the above analysis. This Covid-19 pandemic period of consternation and calamity should at the same time be seen by the South African government and all relevant actors as an opportunity to build the united, democratic and prosperous society of our dreams. Massive urbanization, modernization and industrialization, which can emerge through import substitution industrialization and expansion of existing industries, can enable the creation of a totally transformed new society. Among others, the perspective of developments in local government in South Africa should be informed by this thesis. The Space Economy is intrisicly linked to our national and local government’s economic growth, transformation and development policies.

This is therefore an abridged profile of the book: New Cities New Economies: South Africa and Africa’s Grand Plan, A Pan-African Economic Revolution. This book sets forth the proposition that can contribute towards the blueprint that can herald the New Economy (post COVID-19 pandemic), through the creation of new cities that anchor new economies and redefine power relations across our society. Hopefully the powers that be will have the temerity to act in such a bold manner.


The political atrocities of apartheid ended in 1994, although their psychological consequences remain embedded within both its victims and the soul of the country at large. The social and economic atrocities of apartheid remain embedded within South African society. Racial economic inequality in South Africa is the offspring of apartheid economic atrocities.

This has led to a racially divided country; or more precisely, a country of white prosperity and endemic black poverty and mayhem. This has also led to some calling the country’s much-lauded reconciliation a failure. The failure of South Africa’s reconciliation stems from the fact that, to begin with, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) only dealt with apartheid’s political atrocities; it never attended to economic atrocities, which remain a cancer that will continue to consume the very fabric of our democracy. Until South Africa chooses to confront this ugly truth, it will continue to slide down a slippery slope.

There is a relationship between this ugly reality and the country’s pattern of negative economic growth. A country whose majority population is unskilled and unproductive cannot realise sustained levels of high economic growth. The fact is that, as a result of apartheid’s economic injustices, too few people are economically active in South Africa today, which has yielded many negative developments in the country.

Racial economic inequality forms the heart of the current social contradictions that should inform the struggle for justice and total emancipation in South Africa. The viruses that have arisen out of this phenomenon include the demons of racism and white supremacy. Racial economic inequality is the bedrock of neo-apartheid, which must be totally dismantled in order for the country to move forward toward a prosperous and glorious future. The above notwithstanding, South Africa is a better country today than during the days of apartheid. Many good things have happened during the African National Congress’s 27-year rule as the South Africa’s democratic government. Millions of people have benefitted from the ANC government’s housing policies, with over three million RDP houses having been built for the poor. Healthcare has been provided to many South African citizens, and, recently, free education has been introduced, even at tertiary level, subject to some conditions. Further, road, water, electricity, and sanitation services have all been expanded for the benefit of millions who were previously excluded from these amenities. About 13 million South Africans receive social welfare grants, which include child welfare grants, disability, and pension grants.

Such a lengthy period of governance has not, however, been without its own problems for the ruling ANC, which is currently going through turbulent times.

Spatial Reconstruction

South Africa is a country in transition. From its historical past, the country inherited a fragmented urban geography, a racially-segregated society, and high levels of poverty, unemployment, and inequality (Robinson 1997). An important phenomenon of development is that of the city. Urbanisation, and cities in particular, are known to be potent instruments of economic and social development and are catalytic to the prosperity of nations. They are spatial expressions of the health of a country in so far as social, cultural, economic, and political phenomena are concerned (Hamann et al 2015). Since the inception of its democracy, South Africa has been grappling with how to transform its cities into symbols of integration and sustainable development.

Given the fact that the engineering of the apartheid society was highly geographic, any serious attempt at dreaming up a new society has to examine the challenges of urbanisation in South Africa. Racial spatial geography is the rock upon which apartheid was engraved; hence, regardless of the racial laws having been repealed, this rock still holds strong. The spatial settlement is a concrete phenomenon; it is incorrigible and hard to transform, let alone reform.

The above leads one to argue that the spatial reconstruction of our country has become exigent. To undo apartheid, we have to dream anew; we have to garner the courage to redefine the form and character of our country’s geography, which is intertwined with the realisation of prosperity for the majority and the attainment of a non-racial and non-sexist society. Many people regard spatial planning as merely an urban and rural development endeavour, without realising that it is, in fact, the pulse of shaping a nation’s economy.

In the final analysis, unless a new vision for the construction of a new South African society is founded upon the total reversal of the racially-fractured apartheid inherited national outlook, such a vision promises no stable future for the country. It is already an established understanding that the world, and Africa in particular, is fast urbanizing. Of the nine billion people projected to exist in the world by 2050, five billion are projected to live in urban areas, with the majority of this growth said to occur in developing nations (United Nations Human Settlement Program 2015)

South Africa, and Africa as a whole, like many nations in the developing world, need to plan for this massive urbanisation. Although this is a huge challenge, it presents opportunities to rectify current, as well as past injustices. How the migration of people is managed in South Africa and the continent has significant implications for dreaming a new society. The exciting potential of this vision is that it can contribute to the unfolding engineering of a new society.

The majority of the social, political and economic ills of urbanity have a greater chance of being addressed through the total spatial re-engineering of society, if such an opportunity exists. Unlike the developed nations, developing nations have this advantage because their urban development is not saturated. Hence, they have an opportunity to build on the basis of addressing serious lessons that have been observed from the failures of urbanisation trajectories of other nations, as well as the abhorrent effects of colonial ideologies that bequeathed our nations with the fractured environments we now live within. The result will be a significant paradigm shift from current policy endeavours.

New Cities New Economies Proposition

Policy endeavours that have been implemented by the democratic government are not succeeding in obliterating the vestiges of apartheid; instead, in many instances, they are replicating and reinforcing apartheid visions. There is a clear need for a paradigm shift in the orientation of South Africa’s patterns of urban development. Current patterns require a framework that can assist in redirecting them towards the moulding of a totally new society, one that resonates with the aspirations that are echoed in the country’s democratic constitution.

The current developmental plans of the South African government do not emphasise spatial reconstruction as the overarching foundation for societal transformation and economic development. This is surprising because their aim is to eliminate the apartheid legacies which were primarily envisioned, propelled and are currently being sustained by racial spatial engineering. Once and for all, the South African government and society as a whole need to elevate the issue of spatial justice as the core of all South Africa’s developmental goals and programmes. This is the only way that developmental policies and programmes can have an enduring effect which will result in destroying the vestiges of apartheid and thus result in the birthing of a new nation.

Except for agriculture and a few mining and tourism locations, the centrality of urban economics in the country’s economic sectors has been clearly demonstrated. The majority of economic activity in South Africa takes place in urbanised environments. Consequently, given the history of apartheid urbanisation, this is also where the greatest concentration of poverty lies. Urban poverty is a clear and present social ill, which reinforces high levels of crime in the urban areas. The concentration of the country’s population in urban areas has not happened without a negative impact being felt in rural areas, which also require urgent attention in terms of development.

This proposed policy framework is aimed at influencing the redirection of patterns of urban development in South Africa so that urban development, when partnered with rural development initiatives, can lead the way in guiding the nation towards prosperity and a high quality of life for all South African citizens. This policy framework is anchored on the New Cities New Economies proposal, which acknowledges the dialectical relationship between urbanisation and the economy. This urban development policy framework is believed to be the most appropriate way in which South Africa can totally de-apartheiditself.

The New Cities New Economies thesis sets out a proposal that aims to fuel the long-overdue economic growth and radical transformation of our society. As such, the thesis can be considered the basis of a gestation of an economic revolution since it is such a grand plan, which will not only serve South Africa but also has the potential to reverberate across the entire African continent. This grand plan is the promise of the South Africa we yearn for –  the Africa we want.

New cities herald new economies, and in turn, new economies yield jobs and empowerment, and therefore, destroy both poverty and apartheid’s legacy of racial economic inequality. The new cities should have a symbiotic relationship with the economy. As new cities herald new economies, new economies will then anchor and sustain new cities and also affect the country’s racially polarised structure of the economy. The human migration patterns that have been projected to happen in the next few decades open up a window of opportunity for us. However, like many opportunities, that window will not remain open forever. It is projected that by 2030, 71.3 per cent of the South African population will live in urban areas; this will reach 80 per cent by 2050. Further, by 2050, the entire urban population of Africa, on the other hand, is expected to reach 60 per cent, or 2.5 billion people (South African Department of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs 2016).

These projections suggest a 30 year or so window of opportunity for African countries to respond with concrete plans to manage such large-scale migration issues. Some critically important questions that African governments need to pose include: where will all these people live? How will they live there? What opportunities does this migration present? What dangers does it pose? Current observations demonstrate that we are failing dismally to answer these serious questions. Instead, there appears to be an obsession with short-term interests based upon the immediate political terms of office by our nations’ leaders.

If migration patterns are not properly mediated, more and more people will flock to existing and already overstretched cities, creating an archipelago of slums, which will add to those that are already scattered in and around the current urban spaces. After a while, or over the next three decades at least, the destructive consequences of such non-action will become even more difficult to reverse than apartheid and colonial legacies. Hence, the result would be a new reality of dehumanisation that arises not out of an abhorrent and deliberately segregationist ideology like apartheid, but rather out of the lethargic leadership tendencies of the democratic governments.

This is the context within which the New Cities New Economies visionary framework is presented; that is, as a developmental paradigm that is meant to contribute towards possible solutions regarding the challenges of human settlement patterns that are already bewildering humanity at this very juncture.

Dr. Tshilidzi Ratshitanga