Voices

Why small towns are our future

2019-07-18 05:26

Wealthy businessperson Terry Crawford-Browne, a South Africa patriot, called for the demolition of the Greenpoint Stadium in Cape Town in September 2012.

He then suggested that we have low-cost housing developed where it stood.

Well, Crawford-Browne was not in cartwheels about the amount of money spent by our government on building that state-of-the-art arena and later having it stand boldly like a white elephant.

A lot of us were also not dancing with joy.

Well our government was bullied by Fifa into building stadiums for the 2010 World Cup tournament and it was also overexcited about hosting a spectacular football event, but in the process failed to effectively think and plan intelligently.

Though I am for the people, especially the poor and disadvantaged like those I surround myself with in the small towns, I understood very well where Crawford-Browne was coming from.

But I felt that he was missing just a tiny point.

It wasn’t long before labour federation Cosatu also jumped on the same idea even though their hearts were not at the same place as Crawford-Browne’s.

What Crawford-Browne and Cosatu were missing was that the properties and residential areas already near the stadium were not only housing those who had the head start during apartheid.

They also housed the hard-working South Africans – the previously disadvantaged who came from nothing but pulled themselves up – literally by their bootstraps to have homes and properties in that area.

Redress would be a very bad thing if it meant that the previously disadvantaged were packed as mere casualties.

I am of the view that their hard work would have been taken for granted if low-cost houses were brought nearer their expensive properties and in the process affect the value of the homes.

Let’s face it, the strength of your investment depends on what surrounds it.

Please stay with me, don’t lose me. I stand for bridging the gap because I believe that it is smarter than building brand-new smart cities. Smarten up what we have first.

We are still talking small towns, please do keep up!

I listened attentively when President Cyril Ramaphosa explained why he asked the people to #Thuma him to deliver what the country desperately needs.

Yes, you remember when he said, “#Thuma Mina”, do you not?

Small towns are what drive me and seemingly no one wants to address that gold mine.

Though I am different from the president, I am a realist and the reality is that apartheid spatial planning messed up our country.

Now 25 years later, things still have not been fixed or improved.

The apartheid spatial planning stands to stifle any growth in our economy.

Redress, yes, but not only in the opportunities and infrastructure. It must also happen in the mind-set of our people and our leaders.

Perhaps I should say it must start in the mind-set of our leaders.

I am really struggling to dream about the fourth industrialisation revolution, the technology, the 5G, the bullet trains and smart cities while we still struggle to even call out the difference in our approaches when we build mansions, suburbs, low-cost houses and the RDP houses.

I still say it, small towns are our future. They are the big economy which our leaders are ignoring.

The damage done by the architects of apartheid is engraved and is being carried through our days and to the next generation. Let me explain.

When there is going to be a housing development, the first important thing that the developers do is map out the roads/streets, the water channels, sewage pipes and the electricity.

All this is done before the foundation is dug. The plots for the schools, where churches and shops will all be situated, are reserved and positioned appropriately.

Strangely, none of this happens when we are building the RDP houses. Why is that? These are the effects of the apartheid spatial planning. It is still being carried out today.

The workforce is placed far away from the areas of work and this cuts across every city and every small town throughout the country.

These workers do not only suffer from being away from the good places to shop and from essential services, but this also hammers them in the pocket because of the amount of money they spend on transport considering the distance they have to travel.

Please remember that even the transport industry is not efficient.

The bullet trains are not going to consider the people from Kutlwanong township to Odendaalsrus central business area in the Free State. That distance is 10km.

The bullet train will definitely not consider the people in KwaZakhele, Dwesi, Magxaki, Zwide in Port Elizabeth. People from these places were sidelined by Metrorail since the beginning.

The railway lines in Port Elizabeth were clearly designed to exclude the people and nothing has been done to integrate them so that they benefit from the services to this day.

Surely new rail lines could be built to cut through the townships, giving people a more affordable mode of transport.

In other words, we are still leaving the majority of our people behind while we say we are developing the country. The small towns are still not considered.

Do I need to talk about how the former homelands are neglected, left dusty and full of potholes with no sign of development?

Bridge the gap, I say. I do realise that this is wider than mentioning the actual bridge.

The inequalities, the income imbalances and the imbalances in how people are taxed – the superrich and ordinary people.

The bullet trains are not going to consider the people from Kutlwanong township to Odendaalsrus central business area in the Free State. That distance is 10km.

But in this we are talking about levelling the playing field with regards to the infrastructure and access to services.

Anything grand and considered as new generation must be built on that space between the townships and suburban areas, giving equal access and development to the previously disadvantaged and those who always had.

Tell me again why business centres, business parks and business offices are not built near the townships?

It would be people from the townships who get employed to do general work, would it not?

For the small wage they get, it would go a longer way when they do not need to throw all of it on transport fares.

I still say it, small towns are our future. They are the big economy which our leaders are ignoring.

I call on every man and woman from small towns to stand up and bridge the gap. It is much smarter than smart cities.

Scheurkogel is founder of the NGO The Power of One and hails from Odendaalsrus in the Free State


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August 18 2019