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A bottom-up model of co-operation in development: Smart townships and Smart rural towns

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Picture: ANA file – Earth is still the only home we have, so to care for and cherish it is our only option, Xi Jinping says.

By Wallace Mgoqi and Wesley Diphoko

As debate is raging at the level of the World Economic Forum, as we speak on the theme “co-operation in a fragmented world” we in Africa, having regard to our history, ethnic and cultural diversity and geo-political conditions, must choose now, how to approach the matter. We want to suggest that, as peoples of African descent, we are more inclined to follow a bottom-up approach rather than a top-down approach.

The concept of “Ubuntu” which you find in most cultures in Africa has taught us that, interdependence in human relations, is an important virtue, as against brazen spirit of independence that has always characterised relations in the West.

However, to benefit from what the big role players are busy planning, which is going to impact our lives, we better make sure that we get our house in order, and get our ducks in a row, as it were. Bottom-up co-operation in development to us must mean starting at the very lowest level, which is the microcosm of society – the family.

It is at the level of the family that the ethos of co-operation and interdependence must be fostered – from there in the neighbourhood, the community and the whole society, and from country to country in Africa and in the world.

After attending the World Economic Forum Annual Meeting in Davos on January 17, 2017, at the United Nations Office, President Xi Jinping made an address titled: Towards A Community of Shared Future for Mankind, in which he articulated the need for co-operation at the level of countries that are members of the United Nations, and the principles of engagement in the subject-matter of co-operation.

Quoting Dr Hawking, he said: “There is only one Earth and we humans have only one home. Whilst the possibility exists that there might be parallel universes, we should seek out other planets that might serve as our new home. We do not know when that hope will come true. For the time being Earth is still the only home we have, so to care for and cherish it is our only option.”

There is a Latin motto inscribed in the dome of the Federal Palace of Switzerland which says: “Unus pro omnibus, omnes uno” (One for all, and all for one ).

In South Africa, we come from a past that made us to live in our separate cocoons, believing in keeping out those we deem not to be part of our clan. So, moving from that lifestyle to inclusiveness is a major shift and struggle. But if we are to succeed in overcoming our problems, from our past history, we must learn new ways of living; what it means to be part of a community of a shared future in our context. We must be clear as to where we come from, where we are now and where we are going.

The path into a moderately comfortable society we desire for ourselves, and our people is pointing us to forming partnerships and other co-operative arrangements towards achieving inclusive and win-win development. But it all starts with vision. The Chinese say: “Vision guides action, and action determines the future.”

In South Africa, we need to go back to the drawing board, where all things begin, and instil values and norms in children, such as compassion, generosity, humility, honour, interdependence, sensitivity, responsibility, dependability, resourcefulness, self-control and wisdom. These character qualities will put them in good stead when they are grown up. These character qualities will spread throughout the community and ultimately the society and make it easy to enter into co-operative engagements.

Recently, we came across a practical and concrete example of a bottom-up development model pivoted on co-operation. A young black innovator in the technology space developed what he calls a “Wakanda in Africa” likely to be the first development of a smart township in Africa, using the area where he himself comes from, Kayamnandi, near Stellenbosch, South Africa. In his own words he writes in the latest issue of Fast Company Magazine, titled “Inside the Development of the First Smart Township in Africa” thus:

“Over the next ten years, Kayamnandi will become a fully-fledged, high-tech smart township. The implications are profound. Among other things, its residents will be able to access key services in the virtual space; young people will be able to learn new skills, both online and through a hybrid education model; businesspeople will be able to conduct business in other parts of the world; and, residents will be able to communicate their civic concerns to a local government department without having to go there in person.

Every unemployed resident will have access to information about available job opportunities, without having to stand at a street corner waiting for a truck to pick them up.

These are just some of the services that will become possible in the future smart township of Kayamnandi. It will become a community powered by technology, where challenges in education, health, transport and other key areas will be solved through innovation “.

This bottom-up approach to development is what we have always had in mind, but here it finds concrete manifestation, especially for the rural-urban migration problem, facing the country and other countries in the African continent, in the form of smart cities in rural areas (mutatis mutandis= with the necessary changes ). What Wesley Diphoko, Editor-in-Chief of the Fast Company, and whose brainchild it is, has produced , is actually a prototype of what could be done to build smart cities in rural areas to curb and mitigate rampant and relentless rural – urban migration.

He has effectively provided a blueprint to be followed when setting up these projects, there is thus no need to reinvent the wheel, save for twigging here and there.

This project presents an opportunity to support an initiative that could serve as a model for turning around environments that were not designed to thrive.

It’s an opportunity for powerful role players in the private sector and Stellenbosch to show that they care about the current conditions in Townships. It’s a project that requireseveryone to apply the spirit of “Ubuntu” in the practical sense through action.

Even role players at the international level, in the technology space, should jump at such a well-conceived plan that has a potential to be a game-changer for masses of ordinary people, who are presently bearing the brunt of underdevelopment in their areas. Thus the call for “co-operation in a fragmented world” could not have come at a more opportune time.

Let us once more borrow from the profoundly wise words of President Xi Jinping: “Great visions can be realised only through actions. Actions hold the key to building a community of shared future for mankind.

“To achieve this goal , the international community should promote partnerships, security, growth, inter-civilisation exchanges and the building of sound ecosystems … Guided by the principles of peace, sovereignty inclusiveness and shared governance, we should turn the deep sea , the polar regions, outer space and the internet into new frontiers for co-operation rather than a wrestling ground for competition.“

This is the challenge of our time, this is an opportunity we must not let go, by grasping this with both hands we can turn the misfortunes of millions of our people in this beloved continent of Africa, into moderately prosperous and comfortable lives.

Advocate Mgoqi is chairperson of Ayo Technology Solutions and writes In his personal capacity. Wesley Diphoko is Editor-in-Chief of the Fast Company.