London city workers on a rooftop during lunch.
Office workers lunch in a London rooftop garden of the kind a new South African government plan seems to envisage. (Photo by Richard Baker / In Pictures via Getty Images)
  • By 2050 South African cities can feature rooftop poetry nights, according a draft of South Africa's new apex plan for spatial development.
  • Packed streets will be filled with the sound of voices and music – and people will be nice to one another, the plan's drafters believe.
  • That's despite the fact that 30 million people will not have a decent standard of living.
  • For more stories go to the Business Insider South Africa homepage.


By 2050, South African cities – including the likes of Polokwane and Pietermaritzburg – can feature rooftops used either for food production or entertainment such as poetry nights, plays, and pop-up music performances.

Down below, life on the streets will be "very different to the first two decades of the 2000s", with walking and cycling displacing cars, and electrical buses and taxis so quiet that "all you hear is people's voices and music".

There will also be many small food spots and many places to get your hair done.

Such is the vision of the draft National Spatial Development Framework (NSDF), published for public comment this week. After a two-month window for input, the government hopes the document will become an apex plan for the development of cities, towns, and other parts of the country, guiding everything from planning permission at municipal level to where new roads are built.

The plan is not premised on an economic miracle; it concurs with forecasts that by 2050, 30 million South Africans (40% of a population projected to reach 75 million) will not have a decent standard of living.

But with smart planning – and tools such as a massive new land reform programme – South Africa's urban centres can still become places where people are nice to one another, it holds.

"It is especially the higher densities at which our people will be living, coupled with the greater need to co-produce and collaborate in such spaces, that may create and instil a different view of each other – more accepting and more celebratory of difference, and more mindful of the contribution that different individuals and groups can make to resolving a challenge or problem in an innovative and sustainable way," the plan reads.

That is if everything goes well. If, instead, South Africa continues on its current path of scarcity and "an unwillingness to share the little that is available", urban areas could instead become hotbeds of xenophobia and general hatred of anyone different, the plan also warns. 

But such cautions do little to dilute the optimistic tone of the document, and its predictions of a bright urbanised future.

Where city centres are now "lifeless and boring", they will by 2050 be "hives of activity", dominated by buildings of between three storeys and six storeys tall, according to the document.

Besides small places to eat and salons, pavements will also feature "research, education and innovation institutes, where knowledge and ideas flow freely" as well as "art and culture academies, where young artists are primed, and where you can enjoy music, poetry and short plays and buy paintings and sculptures".

Among these invigorated cities will be Polokwane, Mbombela, Rustenburg, Msunduzi, and Mangaung, according to the NSDF, and some 42 million people, 60% of the population, will be living in them.

Creating that future will require a shift in thinking that places the interests of the many ahead of the interests of the few, the NSDF says. 

This includes "limiting the development of luxury enclaves and estates for the use and enjoyment of the few".

That language is slightly softer than a 2018 version of the plan, which called for "ending the development of barricaded, privileged ‘luxury life-style’ enclaves" in South Africa.

In another change, the latest version of the plan also highlights the need for "well-planned urban and rural land reform at scale, for the use, development and enjoyment by the many", with such land rapidly released, in order to to "ensure the movement to a truly Post-Apartheid National Spatial Development Pattern".

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