We Would Like A Smart City, But Also A City That Is Smart, Mr President- A delayed Rant.
By Joburg Post
“I dream of a South Africa where the first entirely new city built in the democratic era rises, with skyscrapers, schools, universities, hospitals and factories” President Cyril Ramaphosa, SONA19
It isn’t possible simply because the state has given very little space to imagine such grandeur.
Last week President Ramaphosa’s State of The Nation address left the country with mixed emotion. The optimism the president showed in what he would like to do in South Africa was appreciated and, in some form, emulated a clarion call for us all to get behind him in realizing what South Africa could be. For others, all that was made heard was that while he is well aware of the problems faced by the state, he has no clear plan on how to drag the country out of the trench it so readily dug itself in.
Let’s face it, the speech seemed to have glaring holes. Like, for example, the five fundamental goals for the next 10 years; Elimination of hunger, economic growth rates faster than the growth of our population, the employment of two million youths, better educational outcomes for schools and having every 10-year old being able to read with meaning, and the halving of violent crime.
To start with, the amount of unemployed youth was 6 million at the end of the second quarter of 2018 and it has grown. Two million jobs in the next 10 years is nowhere near enough to curb youth unemployment crisis. Ensuring no South African goes hungry is rather difficult to do seeing that many South African families live either on or below the poverty line and that, as it stands now, basic food stuffs are becoming increasingly costly to buy. Halving of violent crimes is just as difficult, seeing as a healthy amount of violent crimes are a result of South Africa’s femicide added to a somewhat lethargic law enforcement.
I do not want to get into every aspect the first citizen mentioned. What I would like to discuss is his dream, or rather what he articulates as what should be a ‘South Africa where a smart city and bullet trains are collectively imagined’.
Frankly, Mr President. That is not possible. Not because South Africans lack imagination, don’t desire a better country for themselves, their families and communities, or don’t care. It isn’t possible simply because the state has given very little space to imagine such grandeur, much less taken the lead on building the foundation for the cloud castle.
How can we have a smart city when a number of, if not all, government departments still require physical hard copies when applying for posts, police dockets are manually administered, and a number of schools rely on archaic paper-based systems for administration? This is also really ironic for a state that is trying to harness the positives of the Fourth Industrial Revolution.
A network of national bullet trains is also difficult to conceptualise when our basic Metrorail is over-burdened, under-serviced and unreliable, not to mention that our first high-speed rail is reportedly running at a loss and being propped up by taxpayers.
E-health in an environment of a strained national health system comprising of dilapidating public health institutions, inhuman conditions, overworked staff and under-resourced facilities is another thing that people feel is stuff right out of a sci-fi movie.
Cutting the rant short, what we would like, Mr president is to have our lives improved and not have to wait for an entire city to be built before that happens. We need government departmentsand infrastructure that is remotely on par with the rest of the world. For an interdepartmental information system to do away with needing to ‘department hop’ to gather documents or apply for posts. We want a total overhaul of the country’s public transportation system, we want safe, reliable and interconnecting modes of transport connecting us all.
Mr President don’t build an Emerald city and lead us to follow a congested yellow brick road.
Upgrade our schools so that administration and teaching is modern. Repair our hospitals and clinics and give them the capacity to deal effectively with the communities they serve, connect their digital records so that people need not carry a referral letter from their clinic to show to the closest tertiary hospital to access specialised treatment. Build the relevant infrastructure in low-income areas to remove the need for them file into a city to access the economy. Outfit our law enforcement with better communicative technologies and train them to be more responsive and less stereotypical. Revamped community development programs. The list of what we deserve as a country is near-endless.
On a different point, a city built in a new era is without doubt symbolic. All of our major cities are drenched in a legacy that some groups would rather we forget, fortunately many recognized that this urging towards selective amnesia only erases wrongs in history that must be righted. However, homes have been erected in the most desolate of areas, and histories of families built and entrenched. This is also symbolic. For millions of South African’s, what is wanted is for the new democratic era to cater to them directly and not for them to have to reach out to be healed by touching the hem of democracy’s robe.
To a point, we all share your dream for a smarter, better country. But before we pick up our shovels and piks to help in building this dream, provide for us the beds to sleep on.