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31/05/2016

Gardening for growth in South Africa's townships

Urban gardening may offer a way for some members of poor communities in South African townships to work their way out of poverty, argues Witness Dzumbira.

As the effects of climate change become manifest in Southern Africa, the need to rethink urban livelihoods is an imperative. In South Africa, where there is already huge income inequality and poverty, severe drought is intensifying socio-economic and political risk.

The country has recently seen agitation for Communist-style wealth redistribution and xenophobic attacks. Such events point to the crumbling of urban livelihoods as economic growth stalls. And globalisation exposes local industries to cut-throat competition.

In South Africa the morphological structure of urban centres worsens the prospects of the poor. Poor black suburbs are located far from economic opportunity.

Legislation and policy are trying to ‘integrate’ former white and black urban centres, but work must be done to enable indigent communities to control their economic destinies.

 Urban centres the world over are susceptible to natural and economic shocks, but the damage caused and time taken to recover reflect local institutional and economic structures.

One way to provide ‘shock absorbers’ is to facilitate small entrepreneurial initiatives. We suggest adding small-scale urban gardening initiatives to the likes of carpentry, welding and street trading. Supported by municipalities, these would be undertaken in backyards and unattended open spaces in townships.

Such initiatives can assist with the dietary needs of communities and help household budgets. In time, households could sell surplus produce. In the long run, it could breed a new class of small-scale urban entrepreneurs.

“In the long run, it could breed a new class of small-scale urban entrepreneurs”

Is this proposal in sync with South Africa’s policy frameworks? It is. chapter 2 of the Spatial Planning and Land Use Management Act (Act 16 of 2013) describes the principle of efficiency, which requires that decisions be taken that minimise negative financial, social, economic or environmental impact on the poor. There is also the principle of spatial sustainability, requiring land management that results in viable communities; and the principle of spatial resilience, which promotes land use management systems that ensure sustainable livelihood in communities most likely to suffer economic and environmental shocks.

As the government fails to attract foreign investment at levels to match unemployment, there is a need to consider ideas such as urban gardening as long-term empowering initiatives.

Witness Dzumbira is a postgraduate student in urban and regional planning at Stellenbosch University. He’s also a member of the Commonwealth Association of Young Planners which is providing bloggers from around the world in the run up to the UN-Habitat III conference in October.

Image credit | Shuttershock

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