South Africa can accelerate its move to smart cities

Issue 8 2022 Security Services & Risk Management

Jan Bouwer.

Smart cities offer a multitude of advantages for both government and residents. They use technology and data to improve the efficiency of a city and the lives of its residents, including making the city more environmentally sustainable.

Take Singapore, for example. From digital healthcare to contactless payments systems, near-universal broadband and energy-efficient buildings, Singapore has become the global poster child for smart cities.

Dubai is another global frontrunner offering over 120 fully digital government services on the DubaiNow app, allowing residents to do everything from paying fines to settling bills, applying for residency, and accessing health services.

Other leaders in the move to digitise city living are Zurich, Oslo, Helsinki, Auckland and Lausanne.

What can South Africa learn?

In 2019 President Ramaphosa announced the intended development of three smart cities - Nkosi City, bordering the Kruger National Park, the African coastal smart city in the Eastern Cape, and the Lanseria Smart City in Gauteng.

Nkosi City is intended to be a job generator where employment will be driven by agricultural projects built alongside RDP housing in an integrated manner which will allow residents to sustain themselves from the farms. The city will derive power at least partially from a solar farm and biomass renewable energy plant.

The African coastal smart city is still in the planning stages and will serve as an investment catalyst for one of the country’s under-developed regions.

The Lanseria Smart City will take advantage of the nearby airport to drive its growth and economic development, and feature rainwater harvesting and solar energy, along with urban planning that encourages a pedestrian lifestyle.

What the global smart city leaders have in common, however, is that they have built on, and developed existing infrastructure, transforming it iteratively. South Africa is well positioned to adopt this approach in concert with the development of new cities.

South Africa’s ‘unsmart’ cities are ripe for digitising. Our biggest cities have a lot of the essential infrastructure that forms a solid base for a smart city conversion, including high levels of smartphone penetration, high-speed fibre networks, CCTV camera networks and, increasingly, Internet of Things sensors, solar power and rainwater harvesting systems.

Cape Town is already hailed as one of the leading smart cities in Africa, along with Nairobi. It boasts end-to-end solutions, including fibre, that are able to support everything from emergency systems to billing processes. CCTV systems located throughout the city provide data which can be used to analyse traffic volumes and other variables that affect congestion and need to be considered in city planning. Capetonians have already experienced how this can be used to their advantage: recent data showed that the city should scale back on the number of buses on the road.

Both Johannesburg and Pretoria also house wide CCTV networks, which could be used to collect and analyse data. Maintenance of many of these systems is needed, but South Africa has the skills and the expertise to do this quickly and effectively, harnessing the potential these cities have to establish themselves as global competitors.

Leveraging the infrastructure already in place would not only be less costly but would also enable the country to start delivering on its smart city vision more rapidly.

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