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Economic Recovery (Lessons from the Pandemic Series)

Nomfundo Faith Dlamini is Programme Manager for Productive Cities at South African Cities Network. We explore various economic impacts on our cities and towns, key ingredients and steps to economic recovery and the main lessons taken from 2020, and how to use them going forward.

Discussion highlights

This episode is brought to you in partnership with South African Cities Network

Reflection on the state of cities report of 2016

  • Cities have been driving economic growth generating approx. 2/3 of the countries’ economic activity and over half of national employment.
  • Cities have significantly improved their service delivery and generally have good strategies in place to stimulate economic growth and social development.
  • Growth and development have not included everyone.
  • Spatial transformation is a key lever for productive city economies and inclusive city growth.
  • Cities should develop bold economic strategies that include the informal sector and public employment programmes.
  • Cities need to expand economic activities and participation through innovation, skills development, and targeted investments.
  • Cities should learn from one another’s strengths in order to improve the current business climate.

How have our cities fared during 2020?

  • Cities play a critical role in unleashing SA’s economy.
  • Extremely challenging circumstances, but the resilience of our people have demonstrated that we are capable of carving a new normal.
  • The crisis has presented an opportunity for us to reboot, redirect and reorganise ourselves and our communities.
  • Economic governance now means putting health and safety before capital interests.
  • Preserving live also means preserving our environment.

Impacts on inner-city business

  • In some corporate office areas, the inner-city business has been impacted however many vibrant economies are actually well underway, Nomfundo gives examples.
  • The notion that inner-city business is reliant on corporate industry to survive is not entirely accurate.
  • Organised elements of trade and stewardship are core characteristics of the informal economy which has been adaptive.

Impact of corporates and larger businesses downscaling their operations

  • It’s a phenomenon affecting the entire world, we have to face it.
  • Permits for us to reimagine what opportunities arise from innovation.
  • It is important for cities to invest in economic infrastructure, Nomfundo shares examples.

Impacts of remote working on our cities

  • Current employment by sector: 5% Agriculture. 23% Industry. 72% Services.
  • This allows for a large number of people to work remotely.
  • Most are rotational and an element of “normality” is currently underway.
  • We are experiencing levels of service delivery that are not what we are used to.
  • Our systems have to keep up with the changes that are occurring.
  • Institutional capacity is already strained.

Impact on our suburbs close to the city centres.

  • A new normal has transpired.
  • For many who has to commute with public transport to the city centers life has to continue.
  • Economic impacts from the hard lockdown took a hard strain.
  • We have yet to adequately measure the actual impacts.

Key ingredients and steps to economic recovery

  • Change the current macro-economic policy thinking, planning, and decision making.
  • Nomfundo explains how cities are not economically empowered to have agency in their urban economies, why cities require more than state funding, the need for equitable spatial transformation, and why cities need policy and regulatory autonomy to diversify their urban economies.

How smaller towns can rejuvenate themselves

  • Develop concrete good governance structures.
  • Build the internal capacity to drive macro-economic reform of the local government state.
  • Nomfundo further explains how to drive the value proposition of our intermediary cities and what that entails.

Will cities be more or less inclusive (economically) over the next 5 years?

  • Nomfundo explains how transformation has transpired, it is inclusion that needs to transpire in the same length and breadth.
  • Tensions exist between formal and informal business.
  • Inclusion (across the board) needs to be a high policy imperative, Nomfundo explains.

Main lessons taken from 2020 and how to use them going forward

  • Focus on the human element instead of capitalistic element.
  • Cities have become the sites of economic agency, resilience, and innovation.
  • Cities need to do more to sustain the livelihoods of their people, especially the indigent.
  • Cities need to scale up on public employment programmes (and more public-private partnerships).
  • Foster more peer-to-peer learning between cities.
  • Start thinking from a regional perspective (not limited to municipal boundaries).
  • The time has long left us to be competing with each other, let’s cooperate and work together.

About the Future Cities Africa and South African Cities Network Partnership

2020 has fundamentally changed the context in which South African municipalities govern and provide services. Future Cities Africa has partnered with South African Cities Network on a series of 4 episodes that look at how cities have fared during the pandemic and what fundamental lessons have been learned.

We cover: Economic recovery, Climate Change, Governance & Municipal Finance, and Built Environment

Ask about partnering with us?

About Nomfundo Faith Dlamini
Nomfundo is the Programme Manager: Productive Cities at the South African Cities Network. Her work focuses on strengthening urban economies, job creation, and infrastructure investment through spatial transformation, expanding economic participation, and improving local economic governance. She is an urban and governance specialist in strategy development, governance, research, and policy development. Ms Dlamini has extensive intergovernmental experience and has previously worked in international, provincial, and local government executive levels.

She mainly draws scholarship within the disciplines of development studies, policy and public administration, international relations, and development planning to inform her work and research.

Visit: LinkedIn

About The South African Cities Network (SACN)

The South African Cities Network (SACN) is an established network of South African cities and partners that encourages the exchange of information, experience, and best practices on urban development and city management. Since 2002 the SACN’s objectives are to:

  • Promote good governance and management in South African cities
  • Analyse strategic challenges facing South African cities
  • Collect, collate, analyse, assess, disseminate and apply the experience of large city government in a South African context
  • Encourage shared learning partnerships among spheres of government in order to enhance good governance of South African cities.


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