Arial photo of houses - Cape Digital FoundationThe Cape Digital Foundation is suggesting that it should be.  Here is why….

Cities are important

According to a UN Habitat forecast, two thirds of the world’s population will live in cities by 2030. The report says, “Cities drive economic productivity and prosperity. As urbanization has advanced so have global economic output, poverty reduction and social well-being. Yet, unplanned urbanization has also often led to pollution, congestion, segregation, sprawl and other unintended consequences…. In some regions of the world, more than 50 percent of urban populations live in such areas. In parts of Africa, south of the Sahara, this statistic jumps to around 70 percent.”

What characterises a megacity?

Officially speaking, a megacity is pegged as any city that is home to more than 10 million residents. The megacities of the world differ greatly as a result of their unique climates, geographic location, political conditions and infrastructure requirements. Some of them, like New York and London, are placed in the more highly populated Northern Hemisphere and are more mature than others – particularly those in Africa. Megacities can be rich, poor, organised or chaotic.

Megacities in the Southern Hemisphere

The population in the Southern Hemisphere has always been smaller compared to the Northern Hemisphere. It is estimated that since the year 2000, only about 11 percent of the total world population lives south of the equator.  Should the size of megacities in the Southern Hemisphere, then, be geared down in size proportionately? Nonetheless, Lagos and Kinshasa already have more than 10 million residents while Johannesburg and Nairobi are expected to reach the 10-million-person threshold in the near future.

Just because the population count in Southern Hemisphere cities is, for the most part lower, than in the populated North does not necessarily diminish how powerful and influential these cities are.

In the Global Power City Index (GPCI) – a global index that does not hinge on population count, Johannesburg was ranked in 44th place in 2017.

Townships and informal settlements are important as the “megacities of the South”

It is for this reason that the Foundation suggests that the term Megacities is redefined to include these areas. According to research conducted by the World Bank Group in 2014, about half of South Africa’s urban population (and counting) lives in townships and informal settlements (T&IS) as a consequence of natural population growth as well as migration from rural areas and neighbouring countries. The report says, “Much of the recent migration has been concentrated in informal settlements, which have grown significantly faster than townships, being the first recipients of rural (and foreign) migrants in search of work. This population accounts for 38% of working-age citizens.”

We at CDF believe that their concentrated nature makes townships and informal settlements the megacities of the future

Townships and informal settlements may not have the population numbers that classify them as “Southern Hemisphere megacities” in their own right, but they are fused into greater metropolitan areas that make up large, influential South African cities. And if, as a collective whole, or by the shear force of the number of people confined in a condensed area they may be seen as Southern Hemisphere megacities in their own right, why not enable them to be smart megacities?

The Cape Digital Foundation believes that townships will drive the South African economy

This is important to consider because in housing 38 percent (and counting) of working-age South Africans in an economy that is rife with unemployment, it is necessary that township economies innovate to become a driving force within the South African economy in the future.

The World Bank Group 2014 report says, “South Africa’s growth potential could be significantly enhanced if it can launch its own version of a convergence machine within – one that would enable rapid growth of the hitherto flailing township economy by unleashing its own internal economic dynamics (with a special focus on the informal modernizing sector) and by integrating it in meaningful ways with the modern urban economy.”

In 2018, a modern urban economy is indistinguishable from a digital economy. It is through enabling individuals to participate in South Africa’s digital economy that the economic power of our townships will be unleashed.  Digital know-how, the daily use of laptops and smart phones and other digital devices – all tethered through an affordable, reliable Internet connection. These comprise the foundations of a smart megatownship economy.

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