Hear me out while I make a case for a kind of fascism

2013-12-02 10:00

First, let me indulge in some Gupta-esque name-dropping. The first name I will drop is that of Johannesburg. I know Johannesburg very well. It is the city I live in and love dearly.

The Big Book tells us that when the One Above created Earth, He took six days to complete his work of art. Then on the seventh day, He rested.

When He woke up on the eighth day, He had no idea what to do with His time. He thought long and hard about his next masterpiece and then, voila! a wonderful idea hit Him, He created Johannesburg. And that is how the magnificent city of Johannesburg?–?the most beautiful city on the planet?–?came to be.

Those among us who have not had the chance to appreciate this wonderful city should make an effort to brave the e-tolls and make their way here.

When they do get here, one of the things they will see are our jaw-dropping mine dunes, a unique spectre worthy of a place in the Wonders of the World publications.

The next name I will drop is Kigali, a city I only became acquainted with in the past 12 months.

The capital of Rwanda has got to be one of the star African cities of the future. It is arguably the cleanest and prettiest city in Africa and ranks among the tidiest in the world. It is also an ambitious city.

The vision of the Rwandan government is that in the next few decades, it should be known as the “Chicago of Africa”, complete with the skyscrapers and vibe that made the Windy City so famous.

But Rwanda’s government and the city’s governors are not sitting idly by and waiting for this to miraculously happen. They are working night and day to transform the city – which came to international attention as the epicentre of the 1994 genocide?–into a classy, economic engine.

To do this, they have had to be hard and adopt some neo-fascist tactics. For the good of all.

The third and final name to drop is the city of Ouagadougou in Burkina Faso where I happened to be this week. To illustrate the kind of city that Ouagadougou is, I will quote the words of a travel companion who, as we wound our way towards our central district hotel, turned to me and said: “I hope our guys don’t have this in mind when they say that Joburg is a world-class African city.”

I will not dwell on the state of Ouagadougou save to say that our double-headed Number 1 must be kept very far away from there or else he will have more tasteless things to say about Africans in Africa.

Kigali and Ouagadougou provide illustrations of what South Africa’s cities can achieve or can be reduced to.

Kigali is still a long way from resembling our major metros in terms of development and pulse, but it is catching up very fast.

Those who knew the city before and shortly after the 1994 genocide gush about the amazing progress it has made under the rule of the authoritarian Paul Kagame’s administration. And those who know Ouagadougou will talk about how it has either stood still or slid backwards.

South Africans are aware of how easy it is to lose good towns. You need only look at Mthatha – which was once the heartbeat of the northern part of the Eastern Cape?–?to appreciate this.

The town may have been stripped of its Bantustan capital status but this was no reason why it should have been allowed to lose its regional economic hub role. Its decline was largely due to poor administration, corruption and an absence of vision.

Ditto the central business districts of our main metropoles.

The leaders and administrators of Joburg, Durban and Pretoria allowed the central business districts to deteriorate very badly before devising and implementing rescue plans.

Once the CBDs had been well run down, expensive revival projects were set in motion.

Thankfully, this is working wonders in Joburg and it is possible that in the next two decades, this great city will again have CBD streets worthy of the good prices on the Monopoly game board.

This will require some steadfastness in the face of some politically correct types who want to resist the city’s attempts to clean up grime in the inner city.

The city government’s plan and action to create order in the informal trading environment has predictably drawn the ire of those who somehow think that disorder is sexy.

These proponents of grime will have us believe that tolerating the hawkers who clog pavements and leave behind tons of rubbish when they close “shop” at night is good for the city’s economy. They could not be more wrong. Chaotic pavement trading has been one of the main contributors to the decline of our main CBDs.

It is the road to Ouagadougou.

If we want our cities to go the way of Ouagadougou, then we should listen to the bleeding hearts who romanticise disorder.

But if we want our cities to remain ahead of a Kigali that will soon be breathing down our necks, then a little dose of Kagame-style fascism should be encouraged.

»?Makhanya is editor at large

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