Strategic Planning in South Africa

In recent years, Africa and the global south has been experiencing enormous urbanisation. The cities of the global south are growing massively, poorer and even more complex. The phenomena at the face of these cities are exponential population growths, inadequate human settlements and poverty. Speculations about the reality of global warming and the primary root causes have been taken to confidence, as cities around the world experience extreme temperatures, severe thunderstorms, threatened water, food and power supplies. These exacerbate the current socio-economic challenges in the society and South Africa is no exception (Watson, 2009).

Planning in South Africa has become a fundamental tool to (re)structure the spatially distorted and socio-economically challenged cities in the country, as a result of the unfortunate apartheid administration. Much progress has been made on a normative level in terms of policy, to (re)focus and (re)prioritise the mandate of planning in South Africa. According to van Wyk (2014), the post-1994 planning system in South Africa has, however made significant advancements to move away from an association which was built on unequal, discriminatory separation of land in which the state disregarded and trudged upon amid others, the equality, pride, dignity, social rights and housing privileges.

The planning that is advocated for in this context (post-1994), is planning that is significantly people-centred, developmental, democratic and environmentally conscious amongst others. However, there has been a lot of bottlenecks in the system that undermines the efforts to restore the dignity of the previously disadvantaged communities, enhance social cohesion and promote socio-economic well-being effectively.

Get quality help now
Marrie pro writer

Proficient in: Africa

5 (204)

“ She followed all my directions. It was really easy to contact her and respond very fast as well. ”

+84 relevant experts are online
Hire writer

Despite the advocacy of a developmental state by the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa and the Spatial Planning and Land Use Management Act of 2013, planning has found itself imprisoned by the desires of capital establishments, surviving in the administration that is ineffective, with misplaced priorities, lack of patriotism and talent incubation in the key public institutions that are supposed to be at the forefront in (re)structuring and (re)positioning our cities for the better. In light of the given context, this paper critically discusses the current difficulties embedded in the planning fraternity, uses a plot of the competitive business world to identify fundamental bottlenecks and propose possible tools to induce developmentalism in the municipal administrations and state owned companies, as the key agents of developing and managing our cities. The key concepts explored in this short paper to embrace the theme of planning for the future of our cities, includes the state-led capitalism inspired by European Economists and Philosophers; John Keynes and Karl Marx at the macro policy level of interventions, Lean thinking as a tool to refine the effectiveness of planning institutions and pursue a concept of Smart Growth as the engine to (re)structure the inefficient apartheid spatial planning legacy and the perpetual struggle of ‘urbanisation of poverty’ in our cities.

The Urban Condition

The morphology of the South African cities is largely characterised by the land use segregation across racial and economic lines. This being the spatial legacy of both the labour migrant system and land dispossessions by the apartheid regime. The exclusionary nature of this administration’s spatial legacy possesses a very rigid and tenacious character when we observe the urban systems in our cities today, twenty-six years later. This raises many questions, is it the rigid nature of evolution of cities or is it lack of developmental will even political will across the various key stakeholders? The Integrated Urban Development Framework accounts that; South African cities are largely characterised by elevated levels of inefficient and wasteful use of scarce resources, this being the land and portfolio infrastructure (CoGTA, 2014). Despite the significant developmental efforts made by the Breaking New Ground policy programmes, Reconstruction and Development Programme, the distorted spatial patterns in our cities are still largely not overturned. Like many other developing countries, South Africa is experiencing rapid urbanisation. The UN-Habitat (2010), estimates that by 2030, the urban population in South Africa will constitute 71.3% of the total population, growing up to 80% by 2050. Unfortunately, the type of urbanisation observed here, urbanists today refer to it as the ‘urbanisation of poverty’ (Piel, 1997). The concept of ‘urbanisation of poverty’ in South Africa is a rapidly growing phenomenon that has exacerbated the stress on the already constrained cities’ resources. This phenomenon has been observed throughout the African cities as well.

Population growth rates in the African countries and South Africa in particular, far exceeds economic growths. This means that per capita, the economic share of the population gets smaller and smaller. In 2008, it was reported on the Statistical Release by Statistics South Africa that poverty has declined significantly since the year 2000. However, it remains a big concern since 27% of South Africans were classified as poor (in 2008) using R233 per capita income per month. According to the latest data on Poverty Report released by Statistics South Africa, the number of people living under the Upper-Bound Poverty Line of R992.00 in 2015 prices has increased from 53.2% in 2011 to 55.5% in 2015 (StatsSA, 2017). The numerical interpretation of this socio-economic phenomenon in question, has furthermore spatially demonstrated itself in African cities by a rapid growth and a perpetuation of informal settlements in Africa’s contemporary cities despite massive and dedicated state developmental efforts.The perpetual urban condition in the South African cities is that which is largely dominated by portfolio infrastructure backlogs, lack of economic performance, urban sprawl, urban decay, water and power crisis. Watson (2009), argues that the current global issues are by-products of urban planning systems which are detrimental to many contexts. Urban planning is, therefore, argued that it needs fundamental evaluations in which it would play a progressive role in these realities. Urban planning in many parts of the globe, echoes a cumulating gap among the current approaches and the mounting issues of poverty, inequality, informality, rapid urbanisation and spatial fragmentation, and South Africa is no exception.

The Status-Quo of the Planning Fraternity

When I observe the political will and the accomplishments of spatial planning and development under the instruction of the former apartheid South Africa and Bophuthatswana, a part of me sometimes thinks that these administrations were significantly ‘developmental states’ however morally draconian. The portfolio infrastructure that we solemnly depend on today in our cities particularly in the Gauteng City-Region, are the capital implements of these governments. We observe strategic road networks, power generation units, the Gariep and Vaal water transfer schemes being the sustenance of many cities across the country. Did planning lose its biting charisma or is it simply lack of political will to mandate it? Under the instruction of the private sector, we see planning demonstrating its full potentials of creativity and solutions architecture, however largely economically exclusionary. Planning firms seem to be making a lot of money engaging rezoning to satisfy the desires of private capital. Large-scale upper market shopping complexes and isolated gated communities are a rapid development trend in South African cities today. The need to get a bigger slice of the cake in the market share by these bodies has entrapped planning in South African cities to mediocrity and conventionalism. The lack of talent incubation and absorption in the state administration, has left the experienced chaps comfortable with the traditional ways of doing things in those public offices.

Despite policy emphasis to extensively engage social housing in spaces of socio-economic opportunities, our cities are still largely characterised by low-density urban sprawl. Adding more strain to the existing infrastructure capacity. The emotive issue of land is dealt with market sensitivity which forces the state to engage low-cost housing in the peripheries of the cities away from work, where land is cheaper. This engagement has constituted unsolicited consequences of perpetuating and even reinforcing the apartheid spatial planning. The Gauteng City-Region in the recent years, has seen large development projects in rural Gauteng undergoing a concept referred to as Counter-Urbanism. People with adequate economic resources have the privilege to isolate themselves in nature where pollution is miniature. Is strategic planning failing to redirect social cohesion? Are municipalities also entrapped in allowing exclusionary developments, rezoning of strategic and progressive frameworks to simply fill the public purse with rates and taxes to be able to run their companies? Planning problems are many, however in this section of the paper we will focus on the instigation phases to start correcting the fundamental flaws in the system.

Reforming Planning Institutions

The National Development Plan Vision 2030, which has less than a decade to significantly address the socio-economic and socio-spatial challenges endured by South Africans, has mandated the administration to facilitate a very strong and efficient spatial planning system. The outcomes of these interventions are supposed to constitute sustainable human settlements where the access of socio-economic opportunities by communities is enhanced (NPC, 2012). There has been a lot of conventioneering around the issue of reforms to the planning systems. Since 1994, momentous strides were made in refining the planning system’s normative framework. A new South Africa was born with a new planning system, a system that is more suitable, cohesive, developmental, democratic and sustainable. However, it has been twenty-six years since such reforms were engaged and the South African municipal planning system is still struggling to grasp or even adapt to the new normative mandate of planning despite various progressive efforts made in cities. Planning in South Africa is largely associated with Integrated Development Planning system, Strategic Planning, Spatial Development Frameworks and the Land Use Management System. The reforms of the planning fraternity absolutely look great on paper, nevertheless, the ground still looks much untampered with. The new emphasis on integrated development planning that seeks to spearhead growth and development has demonstrated progress in some parts of the country however not at a pace desired by the planning and government policy (Coetzee, 2010). What are these bottlenecks that could be undermining the developmental efforts of the state? CoGTA (2009), recognises poor governance, lack of leadership in conjunction with the weakening of the institutional structures and the lack of skills and capacity induction as the fundamental impasses of a desired ‘developmental state’.

Planners are change agents; they are development militants who ought to make change happen. Coetzee (2010) advocates for a narrative that says, planning can be well-appointed with the most superlative planning processes, the right strategies at the right time. However, if these are not informed by the appropriate development imperatives, change will not be observed. Amongst others, Coetzee (2010) states that the development fundamentals comprise of pertinent leadership, a developmental mind-set, attitude and culture, and planning that is in close contact with the people. Given the global context in which cities radically desire to be more competitive, he further accounts that strategic, innovative and entrepreneurial visioning and orientation is needed in planning institutions. The most intriguing part about this engagement, is perhaps asking how to do this? The answer is very simple, ‘Lean Planning’. Derived from Lean Six Sigma, a business operational model that seeks to make production organisations more competent and more outcome-based. ‘Lean Planning’ which will be discussed in detail, will drive the implementation-based approach to developmentalism referred to as the State-Led Capitalism. A dedicated drive-through on this concept will also be observed shortly.

Cite this page

Strategic Planning in South Africa. (2022, Mar 07). Retrieved from

Let’s chat?  We're online 24/7