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Apartheid’s spatial planning, which saw a majority of economic activities taking place in big cities, resulting in massive urban migration, is not only putting pressure on ageing municipal infrastructure in the metros, but also a serious threat to the sustainability of smaller towns and rural areas, especially in the former homelands.

This observation emerged during the Local Government Week discussions under the topics: “Mainstreaming Integrated and Sustainable Land Use”, “Municipal infrastructureIntegrated Spatial Planning and the Provision of Services” (human settlements, energy, water and sanitation) at Parliament.

Delegates of the NCOP, Members of Provincial Legislatures and municipal councillors, meeting at Parliament for the NCOP’s Local Government Week, have discussed the need to create economic activities in smaller towns and rural municipalities to address urban migration, which is stressing available infrastructure in the country’s metros.

Government ministers, mayors and committee chairpersons are also taking part in the three-day summit under the theme “Land Use: Towards Integrated Spatial Planning”.

During a panel discussion on the topic: “Integrated Spatial Planning and the Provision of Services” (human settlements, energy, water and sanitation), NCOP Chairperson Ms Thandi Modise called for the development of rural areas to create economic activities closer to where people live.

“The only time can attract people to stay in rural areas and small towns is when you create economic activities there,” said Ms Modise.

Salga President Mr Parks Tau said the continuous movement of people towards services was adding to the problems faced by the metros, that of old and decaying infrastructure.

“The age (of the infrastructure) and the volume of population are stressing infrastructure in all the metros – the sooner we agree that there has to be other alternatives for municipalities to generate revenue and create economic activities outside the metros, the better,” said Mr Tau.

“The mayors must act as champions for economic development and investment in their towns, because there will never be adequate transfers from the national government,” he said.

Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs Minister, Dr Zweli Mkhize, said municipalities must not develop land only for human settlements, but also plan for economic activities.

“People move to urban areas because of economic opportunities, it is time for municipalities to not only use land planning for human settlements, but also for economic development in their areas,” said Dr Mkhize.

Ms Tebogo Mokwele, an NCOP Delegate representing the North West province, said it was time for government to pause and reflect on all previous spatial plannings and see what has worked and what has not.

“I suggest that we start to move from planning and reflect on what we have planned before; we need to evaluate our plans, as leaders of society we need to ask ourselves what have we done in terms of spatially developing our municipalities – the manner in which we develop our areas still reflects apartheid – segregate people in terms of financial ability or resources,” she said.

The proposal of evaluating previous plans was supported by another NCOP Delegate, Mr Tekoitsile Motlashuping: “We need to evaluate the successes and failures of previous policies on spatial planning,” he said.

By Sakhile Mokoena

8 May 2018