The recent announcement by President Cyril Ramaphosa about developing a “smart city” in South Africa has created quite a stir and has triggered a lot of conversation. Unfortunately, it seems not many people are thrilled about the idea.
Much of the negativity stems not from the concept of the smart city itself, but from the state of the country and the challenges that South Africans face. As one person put it: “How smart will the president’s smart city be during load shedding?”
The issue, it seems, is not that South Africans don’t support the president’s idea of a smart city or of technological advancement in general; it’s simply that they’re wary of promises of a futuristic hi-tech utopia when we have bigger problems at home, such as load shedding, youth unemployment, rampant poverty, crime and a whole host of other things.
People want to get the basics right before moving forward. It doesn’t make sense to buy a 65-inch ultra high-definition LED television when your home has huge gaping holes in the roof.
But I won’t go to the extent of saying that there’s no place for smart cities in South Africa. On the contrary, I believe that, like in so many cities around the world, technology can provide effective solutions for many of the problems South African cities and their residents face.
The part I’m sceptical about is the idea of a new, standalone smart city, one that’s set up separately from existing cities. This, in my opinion, is a disaster waiting to happen, for a number of reasons.