X marks the future of infrastructure in South Africa

Chris Adendorff and Des Collier are working on the 2nd edition of their book, to be published in June, on possible futures for South Africa towards 2055 based on the outcome of the upcoming election, with particular reference to the Fourth Industrial Revolution. This is the second in a series of articles written by them that will be published in the Daily Dispatch in the run-up to the May 8 general election

RIGHT SPREAD: Current urban development models are not fit for their emergent needs and will have to adapt if they are to succeed.
RIGHT SPREAD: Current urban development models are not fit for their emergent needs and will have to adapt if they are to succeed.

The Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) is evolving at an exponential rate and is disrupting almost every industry in every country.

The disruptions will be accelerated by breakthroughs in fields such as artificial intelligence, robotics, the internet of things, autonomous vehicles, 3-D printing, Blockchain, nanotechnology, biotechnology, materials science, energy storage, and quantum computing.

South Africa is classified as an advanced, upper middle-income country but it continues to struggle with the challenges of a “dual economy’: high poverty, unemployment, income inequality and spatial socio-economic disparities.

Growth creates the resources needed for better education, health, and security, and for higher incomes.

Although economic growth does not guarantee human development, there are no examples of countries improving the welfare of their populations without economic growth.

However, to the extent that broad-based social inclusion has been given any consideration in the past, it was limited primarily to redistribution of any economic gains.

With the evolving global political context and the advent of the 4IR, the economic policy debate and interventions must shift to unlock productivity and deliver broad-based prosperity by solving for economic growth and social inclusion simultaneously before the fact.

Economic growth and development cannot be realised in conditions of political intolerance, the absence of the rule of law, corruption, civil strife and war.

Poverty thrives under such conditions, nurturing further political instability and conflict, creating a destructive repetitive cycle, which perpetuates under-development and extreme deprivation.

South Africa has high potential to re-industrialise if the right policy decisions are made.

Promoting re-industrialisation requires a well-tailored policy mix, consisting of measures to improve the general business environment, notably through infrastructure development, but also spatially balanced, targeted support at micro-economic level for specific industries with the potential for competitive advantage and job creation.

Future scenario planning

Future scenario planning is an internationally recognised method used in turbulent times to create future scenarios that enable people to create a preferred future if...

  •  We want to;
  •  We collaborate to do so; and
  •  We act with purposefulness, understanding and insight.

What are the possibilities?

Megatrends influencing infrastructure include:

  • The world’s poor becoming an increasingly powerful force in urban development;
  •  Current urban development models are not fit for their emergent needs;
  •  Global warming will affect the poor disproportionately;
  •  International finance will become more selective in comparing between cities;
  •  New ecological accounting mechanisms will play an increasing role in real estate finance and development;
  •  Building obsolescence will become an increasingly important factor.


Forecasts for 2030 include:

• Over 20% of all new construction will be “printed” buildings.

• Using 3D printer technology to construct future buildings will open up an entire new world of possibilities for architects and industry thought leaders.

• We will see the first city to harvest 100% of its water supply from the atmosphere.

• We will see a growing number of highways designated for driverless vehicles only.

• A form of tube transportation, inspired by Hyperloop and ET3, will be well on its way to becoming the world’s largest infrastructure project.

Game-changing actions

Based on review and planning undertaken by Chris Adendorff, the Amathole District Municipality management as well as political leadership to compile Vision 2058 towards a Smart District, a number of game-changing actions are possible, most of which relate to infrastructure as summarised in the table below:

  •  Incorporate smart initiatives: Technology trends driving peri-urban towns and ultimately districts;
  •  Upgrade infrastructure to high standards of smart resilience;
  •  Build on smart, green infrastructure;
  •  Build affordable social housing in all communities;
  •  Make all housing smart and healthy;
  •  Improve the natural and built systems that sustain us;
  •  Increase water and electricity supply: Aqua-solar desalination – a circular economy game-changer;
  •  Develop globally competitive and smart business districts;
  •  Restore smart job centres in smaller towns;
  •  Cool the structures of local communities;
  •  Adapt streets and highways for a smart technology-driven future;
  •  Make room for the next generation of industry;
  •  Expand and redesign local airports to support districts; and
  •  Restructure ports/harbours to function as a supporting infrastructure bank.

These proposed game-changers are aligned to the ideals of the World Trade Organisation, the Cotonou Agreement, Millennium Summit Declaration, African Union, Nepad programmes, National Development Plan 2030, National Spatial Development Perspective (2007) and the Local Government White Paper.

The White Paper marked a key break from past conceptualisation of local government in South Africa.

The policy called on municipalities to become more strategic, visionary and ultimately influential in the way they operate.

As South Africa approaches the 2019 election, the question that has to be asked is whether the elected government will choose to operationalise local economic development (LED) by organising itself to partner with citizens in programmes that confer rights to pursue public/community goals under programme rules and with programme resources that are known in advance?

And will citizens choose to organise themselves to become major players in local economic development and service delivery as partners of government?

The proposed game-changers also relate to the development of smart cities, small towns, peri-urban towns and districts as summarised in the game-changing example below.

Tech trends’ crucial role

A smart, sustainable city or small town is an innovative development that uses information and communication technologies (ICTs) and other means to improve quality of life, efficiency of urban/rural operation and services, and competitiveness, while ensuring that it meets the needs of present and future generations with respect to economic, social and environmental aspects.

Understanding the roll-out of technologies and their relative importance in the ecosystem requires understanding of the business drivers that affect their deployment and uptake, and an overview of the smart city or town marketplace.

Estimates place the size of the market in the R300bn range in South Africa and a report by Frost & Sullivan breaks down the total spend into market segments as follows:

  •  Smart buildings 9.7%;
  •  Smart healthcare 14.6%;
  •  Smart mobility 8.7%;
  •  Smart infrastructure 13.1%;
  •  Smart energy 15.8%;
  •  Smart security 13.5%; and
  •  Governance and education 24.6%.

Some high-level observations of the technologies contributing to the growth of smart cities, small towns or peri-urban towns include the following:

  •  Focus on point solutions: Currently, most smart deployments are focused on specific infrastructure needs, for example, reducing water loss through ageing pipe infrastructure, or improving transportation efficiency through monitoring. Companies need to focus on these types of projects and look for incremental ways to connect individual systems to provide aggregate efficiencies and support new services.
  •  Instrumentation and actuation from the Internet of Things (IoT): As sensors/actuators are being replaced in the system, an increasing percentage of smart infrastructure is becoming IoT connected. Cities and towns that recognise this and install middleware and cloud systems to capture and use this data will see significant advantages over time.
  •  Value from analytics: Today, few cities gather and analyse city data in a comprehensive way. Both government and industry need to adopt big data strategies as part of their core framework, building solutions from a cloud-centric perspective that incorporate data analytics as core capabilities.
  •  Different regions have different needs: The underlying technology trends however do not differ, and so the problem becomes the most appropriate application of a technology to meet the needs cities, small towns and peri-urban towns. Firms that are able to adopt a flexible approach to delivering solutions will reap benefits.
  •  Collaboration is critical. Companies need to identify their role in the smart city/town and district solution ecosystem and work to develop partnerships that enable them to offer solutions collectively to these areas.
  •  Citizen engagement and activism are shaping the thinking of smart districts: Companies that can tap into this and show how their solutions benefit from citizen engagement will accrue advantage through differentiation. Smart districts that develop comprehensive citizen engagement strategies will also benefit from citizens who are franchised, as well as the collective wisdom of the community. Ultimately, smart cities and towns need smart citizens, which will be the topic for the next article that is focused on education.

Chris Adendorff (PhD, DBA, PhD) is an adjunct professor at Nelson Mandela University Business School in Futures Studies and Commerce and serves on the Presidential Commission on the Fourth Industrial Revolution. Des Collier is a freelance writer with experience in education and performance management consulting.