Town planning guru and CEO of the Cape Town Partnership, Bulelwa Makalima-Ngewana, has shared her expertise on how Windhoek can become a more hospitable city by putting human interest at the heart of development.
During a working visit to Namibia this week, Makalima-Ngewana, a town planner by profession with vast experience in managing and coordinating public-private partnerships, said the design of Windhoek was similar to that of Cape Town in the sense that both were meant to segregate people due to their different classes and racial orientation during the apartheid regime.
She said she has a special interest in dismantling apartheid cities and has spent the last 10 years managing, developing and promoting the Cape Town Partnership. Before ascending to the CEO position in 2012, Bulelwa worked in a number of senior roles since joining the Partnership in 2004.
“If you understand town planning in the context of South Africa, you will understand that town planners are the creators of apartheid cities and to dismantle these cities is a costly exercise,” she said.
“They (town planners) were at the forefront, deciding how land is going to be parcelled, they were used by the apartheid government to create these buffer zones between communities,” noted Makalima-Ngewana.
Consequently, present-day South African cities (and Namibian towns) still exhibit the designs, which are remnants of apartheid.
“It is not easy to change (apartheid cities) because when you put these absolutely hard to destroy buffer zones such as railway lines or bridges, it is very expensive infrastructure to dismantle,” she noted.
In addition, the division of cities into buffer zones is clearly visible to the physical eye, but what one cannot see, according to Makalima-Ngewana, is the division it creates in the “hearts of the people”.
She added that, firstly, the process of dismantling apartheid cities is expensive and, therefore, requires local government, central government and private sector to work together as a team. Secondly, she said, it is imperative to sort out the basic needs of a city, that is, urban management that include safety, cleanliness and mobility.
Public space entails road network, railway lines and bridges. In order to achieve this, the road system needs to prioritise humans over vehicles, she said.
“There has been a robust strategy to change roads from being dominated by cars to be multipurpose roads that are shared between different forms of mobility,” she added.
Multipurpose roads make provision for pedestrians, skate boarders, cyclists and vehicles to use the same road at the same time. The current format of the system in Windhoek makes it hard for all road users to co-exist without safety implications.
In essence, cities like Windhoek are set-up in such a way that they create a “migrant labour system” whereby people come to town in the morning for work and go back to the townships before sunset, the town planner said. As a result, there is barely a single person in and around the central business district (CBD) because the cities are not human-oriented, according to the town planning expert.
Thirdly, to succeed in dismantling apartheid cities, she said, it is imperative to promote the creation of spaces for social cohesion activities, which can bring people of different backgrounds together.
According to Makalima-Ngewana, to succeed at social cohesion, Cape Town Partnership started the ‘Coffee Shop Revolution’, which was followed by the ‘Retail Revolution’.
“What we’ve seen in Cape Town is that all the coffee shops are followed by retail shops (located around coffee shops) and an organic retail strategy, which allows for the most expensive shops and local shops to co-exist,” she said.
What Windhoek can learn
In cities that are divided due to historical or political reasons, the most effective way of bringing people together is through the creation of public space and events, Makalima-Ngewana said.
“When people from different sectors of society meet at public space, they need to feel welcome and to manage and activate areas (public space),” she said.
In the current bleak economic climate, the City of Windhoek (CoW) and the Namibian government continue to invest heavily in road infrastructure which cost billions of dollars to construct.
According to the expert, the time has come to shift focus and put human needs at the forefront of development to make the city more “human and user-friendly”.
This includes improving the public transportation system, creating multi-user roads and creating open spaces where people from all walks of life can come together and enjoy themselves.
Well-placed sources within the Windhoek Municipality have reliably confirmed to this paper that pre-feasibility studies for the construction of a railway in Windhoek have been completed paving the way for the main feasibility study to commence.