Mandla Sibeko.
Mandla Sibeko.
Image: Darryn Gwyn

I believe that, in the near future, we citizens will not be as concerned with who becomes president as with who our mayor is. This is the person we will look to, perhaps even partner with, to ensure our neighbourhoods are working well. The state of my street and my city becomes far more critical than the state of the nation.

And no, I’m not advocating for a downturn in national pride. Quite the opposite. When our immediate environments — our cities and towns — reflect the values, dreams, aspirations, and desires of their inhabitants, there’s a stronger sense of ownership, an empowerment that, once adopted by multiple communities, manifests as a proud, sincerely invested nation. And when constituencies function better and improve service delivery, our country goes from strength to strength.

The chances of me, or anyone I know, sitting down to chat with a government minister are close to zero. But a local representative is within reach

On a recent trip to San Francisco, I was struck by how fairly remote areas manage to be self-sustaining. An inward-facing energy drives businesses, communities, and everyday residents to band together and enrich a thriving ecosystem. To do the same here, we must flatten political hierarchies. The chances of me, or anyone I know, sitting down to chat with a government minister are close to zero. But a local representative is within reach. And when this on-the-ground engagement happens, it’s about a shared concern, a common interest.

AFRICA, YOUR TIME IS NOW

The United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs predicts that the 10 fastest-growing cities by 2035 will all be African. While bustling metropolises such as Lagos, Abuja, Abidjan, Douala, and Kumasi are expanding rapidly, private developers and governments are spending billions on building brand-new cities, planning everything from seaside business districts to smart-tech hubs and futuristic residential enclaves. The wave of urban migration is a chance for people to come together and work more closely for the common good.

Pressure and partnership at the coalface is one route, but there are countless other ways for communities to harness the strength of numbers. Collaborative consumption — a peer-to-peer network that eschews ownership in favour of communal usage — has changed the way neighbourhoods interact. Everything from meals to stepladders, errands, and work trips become pooled resources that, when shared, help to reduce environmental impact and increase involvement, security, and acceptance.

South Africa is fragmented: divided physically by spatial apartheid, segregated by class affectations, and walled-off for fear of crime. This prevailing pessimism breeds a noxious mistrust that will eventually erode any sense of fraternity. We need to reclaim, repopulate, and reinvigorate our streets. They must be arteries that connect, routes towards solutions, paths we travel together. When we imagine our cities through the lens of opportunity, we need to zoom in even closer, on the individual. On you. On me. All it takes is an adjustment of attitude, a lowered guard, a lower wall — and the stage will be set for true connections. That’s what will really make African cities work and our countries prosper.

- Sibeko is an entrepreneur and the director of the FNB Joburg Art Fair.

- From the December edition of Wanted.

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