Despite the progress, unfortunately, most of our cities are still highly spatially fragmented due to segregated and class-based colonial planning systems, and in South Africa, apartheid planning policies.

On 25 May we celebrate Africa Day. We say, in the words of the African Union Anthem: “Let us make Africa the Tree of Life.”

African cities are important roots that feed the African Tree of Life. Their economies, culture, and creativity represent some of the fruits of this tree.

President Nelson Mandela said: “… human civilisation rests on foundations such as the ruins of the African city of Carthage. These architectural remains … all speak of Africa`s contribution to the formation of the condition of civilisation.”

According to the UN, Africa is expected to be the fastest urbanizing region between 2020 to 2050.

By 2050 most of the world’s urban population will be concentrated in Asia (52%) and Africa (21%).

Currently Africa has only three megacities (cities with a population of more than 10 million), namely, Cairo, Kinshasa and Lagos.

By 2030 three more megacities will be added, namely Johannesburg, Luanda, and Dar es Salaam.

Most of the fastest growing cities with a population of less than 1 million are also located in Asia and Africa.

Ensuring that these most rapidly developing cities in the world develop sustainably, is of vital importance, not only for our continent, but for our planet.

Despite the progress, unfortunately, most of our cities are still highly spatially fragmented due to segregated and class-based colonial planning systems, and in South Africa, apartheid planning policies.

It is imperative that we develop national urban policies that indeed promote spatial transformation and thus forge a new economic and social landscape.

We must find African solutions to African challenges – that are also global challenges. To do so we must learn from each other.

There is no reason why African cities cannot rank amongst the worlds most liveable cities.

The United Nations Sustainable Development Goals recognize the importance of urban areas – Making cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable. The New Urban Agenda is the global plan to realise this goal.

AU Agenda 2063 recognises that: Cities and other settlements are hubs of cultural and economic activities, with modernized infrastructure, and people have access to affordable and decent housing including housing finance together with all the basic necessities of life such as, water, sanitation, energy, public transport and ICT.

One of Agenda 2063’s key objectives is to: Provide opportunities for all Africans to have decent and affordable housing in clean, secure and well planned environments.

In pursuit of this vision South Africa has adopted an Integrated Urban Development Framework (IUDF).

The IUDF marks a New Deal for South African cities and towns. It will steer urban growth towards a sustainable model of compact, connected and coordinated towns and cities in line with out National Development Plan.


We will strengthen rural-urban linkages, promote urban resilience, create safe urban spaces and ensure that the needs of the most vulnerable groups are addressed.

The objective is to transform urban spaces by:

  • Reducing travel costs and distances;
  • Preventing further development of housing in marginal places;
  • Increasing urban densities to reduce sprawl;
  • Improving public transport and the coordination between transport modes; and
  • Shifting jobs and investment towards dense peripheral townships.


Achieving this vision of spatial transformation will require the social compact that President Cyril Ramaphosa is calling for between all spheres of government, the private sector, labour and civil society, and most importantly the citizens of our municipalities.

Indeed, while we think and cooperate internationally, continentally and nationally, we must act collaboratively through the local sphere of government.


Andries Carl Nel is the Deputy Minister for Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs in the Republic of South Africa. He was the Deputy Minister for Constitutional Development from May 2009 until 9 July 2013 and has been a member of Parliament for the African National Congress since 1994