DRIVING TOWNSHIP REGENERATION Lessons from a Treasury programme

Traffic in research information is not all one-way. Some important social research originates within government. GECI KARURI-SEBINA works with National Treasury. Her presentation on strategies for township and small town regeneration under the Neighbourhood Development Programme provided insights from the world of policy and implementation. She concluded with some challenging propositions.

Apartheid gave birth to South African townships. They were designed to isolate their inhabitants and exclude them from the full benefits of citizenship. Municipalities made little effort to plan for them. They were starved of skills and financial resources. Township residents were poor; there were high levels of unemployment, little economic activity and a property market hardly existed.

After 1994, municipalities found themselves ill-equipped to deal with such challenges. Basic needs such as water, electricity and drainage dominated spending on townships and small towns, and there was underinvestment in economic infrastructure and social amenities.

Most municipalities were unable to handle large-scale, long-term planning and investment, and were not even able to exploit the potential of existing assets.

The Treasury’s Neighbourhood Development Programme provides a medium- to long-term funding commitment to municipalities for township and small town development.

This funding is conditional on systematic planning and careful packaging and testing of projects by municipalities, for which technical assistance is provided. This creates certainty and predictability which should enable municipalities to negotiate confidently with partners.

There are, as is to be expected, numerous difficulties. Townships were designed well for the purposes for which they were originally intended. Regeneration – addressing the symptoms of decline – may be possible, though even when life is improved, they may remain the ghettos that they were intended to be.

However, transformation – fundamentally altering for the better the development path of townships – is a major challenge.

A plan of an imagined but typical South African town illustrates the difficulties of changing apartheid spatial planning, and also changing contemporary developments that reproduce patterns of inequality, though divisions now tend to follow the lines of social class more than race.

These are the issues that the Neighbourhood Development Programme grant is intended to address. It is in two parts and one part cannot be utilised without the other.

The bulk of the funding enables municipalities to purchase what they need, and about 10% is devoted to technical assistance. These are the issues that the Neighbourhood Development Programme grant is intended to address.The difficulty has been to persuade the municipalities to focus on technical assistance instead of on the immediate benefits that come with the bulk of the funding. The uptake is poor: there is resentment at having to develop a long-term strategy when immediate problems are so overwhelming.

Local politicians and administrators see funding – tantalisingly within their reach – being denied in the interests of a long-term planning process which seems to them a distraction rather than a priority.

The challenges are obvious: history and geography make township transformation a most difficult enterprise. In this difficult context, what is required? What are the lessons of the Neighbourhood Development Programme?

Townships may appear to be ‘all the same’, but they have different historical and geographical contexts. Not every township has the potential to be an economic powerhouse

There is a need for vision and long-range strategy if township transformation is the true objective. The objective of transformation must be expressed concretely in designs, strategies and plans. Without this there can be no convincing platform for transformative development of townships.

A concerted focus on developing South Africa’s townships will be impossible without unequivocal support from relevant institutional champions that have the power, political will, capacity and resources to carry out the agenda.

Townships may appear to be ‛all the same’, but they have different historical and geographical contexts. They must be looked at realistically. Not every township has the potential to be an economic powerhouse. Local and external factors must be considered.

In practice, municipal Integrated Development Plans (IDPs) are often weak and unhelpful. This emphasises the importance of inter-departmental and inter-governmental involvement in township development.

Systematic accumulation, sharing and analysis of data and practice-based learning about township development plans and interventions would be an important step towards improving the chances and speed of development. Currently, the diffuse and sparse nature of information and knowledge is an obstacle to learning and informed, coordinated intervention.

The quality of surveys and reports by some consultants in particular, often leave much to be desired, though capable consultants are necessary to township development. In all these respects the Neighbourhood Development Programme may provide a concrete starting point for further progress.