Day two of the 2022 Public Economics Winter School took a detailed look at how intensifying urbanisation in South Africa is putting pressure on infrastructure and service delivery. The speakers and panellists provided insight into the key elements to drive investment and delivery.

The day kicked off with a presentation by Prof Kgosientso Ramokgopa, Head of Investment and Infrastructure in the Presidency. His presentation provided critical context on the relation between South Africa’s apex planning framework, the National Development Plan, and the National Infrastructure Plan. He explained the logic of focusing on energy, water, digital communications and freight transport as this infrastructure increases efficiency and improves opportunities.

He said: “The local government sphere is closest to the people. If local government doesn’t work, the whole country doesn’t work.”

While presenting maps and data that showed that infrastructure investment is largely clustered in the five biggest metros and that these metros account for 60% of the economy and 50% of the population in the country, he highlighted that there is a “correlation between investment, quality of life and growth”.

He, like other speakers noted “we have a religious pre-occupation with clean audits. We can’t congratulate a fish for swimming, a [clean audit] should be a given. We need to look at the lived experience [of citizens].”

He closed by looking at the challenges that infrastructure investment faces in South Africa including the need for innovative, blended financing and a real focus on project preparation.

This was followed by a panel discussion on infrastructure and service delivery in metros and cities with a focus on smart cities. The panel was facilitated by Nosipho Hlatshwayo from South African Cities Network (SACN). Collen Lethu Masango, from the World Bank and Smart Cities highlighted that “smart cities are often confused with a tech drive and the belief that if you have the technology in place you will solve all the issues. But smart cities improve sustainability and resilience and use technology and data. It’s more about the impact it has on people’s lives.”

Jonathan First, from GFA Climate and Infrastructure said: “South Africa’s challenge is not money related. We’re trying to improve the value chain.” He highlighted that only four of the eight metros in South Africa are bankable and only 16 of the 39 intermediate cities are bankable.  He emphasised the need for South African municipalities to look at how to move projects from feasibility to bankability.

“The power lies with municipalities. Once we see [bankability] we will see lots more funding in the municipal space, from private funders,” he suggested.

The panellists also touched on the importance of partnerships. Liza Rose Cirolia, African Centre for Cities said: “We often think about partnerships between the private and public sectors. But it’s much broader than that, its government, communities and the private sector.”

This was followed by an informative session that introduced delegates to a systems thinking approach to municipal delivery with Samuel Njenga, from Systems Thinking Africa.

Following this there were an exciting interactive session that presented two case studies on a Tembisa project and an East London project and delegates were asked to analyse these with a systems thinking lens. They were asked to draw pictures and capture the voices of the stakeholders to capture the complexity of these issues. This approach aimed to engage a different side of the brain and move away from the traditional analytical approach to problem solving. Finally participants engaged in a boundary critique to reflect on each person’s biases, blind spots and their unintended consequences.

Njenga said: “The systems are not out there [pointing out], the systems are in our minds. They are the lenses we are using to look at complex, messy situations to listen to inter-relations, different stakeholder voices.”

Following the case study analysis was a session with five post-graduate students who shared their impressions of the Emerging Markets and Country Risk Analysis Programme. The graduates all participated in the University of Pretoria and Fordham University exchange programmes.

Mbekezeli Mazibuko, an exchange student in the programme said: “Should you get an opportunity to go abroad, take it with both hands. It’s not an easy decision to make, but it is worth the risk. Take it, you will not regret it. The benefit outweighs any cost!”

While Boitumelo Shabangu said: “The biggest thing I have taken from the experience is to work hard and the world is your oyster. You grow up thinking you’re limited to a certain city or province and this programme opens your eyes to see you’re not limited.”

Access all Winter School resources and presentations here.