Minister Dr Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma

Minister Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma’s Keynote Address at the 5th African Capital Cities Sustainability Forum

Topic: The power of cities across our continent

Programme Directors;

Your Worship Mayor of the City of Tshwane, Cllr Stevens Mokgalapa,;

Your Worships the Mayors of African capital cities;

The Dean of the Diplomatic corps and members of the diplomatic community;

Hasting Chikoko Regional Chair of C40 Cities;

Representatives of the International Council for Local Environmental Initiatives;

Members of Civil Society, research institutions and related policy advisors

Investors and Developers

Member of the Media

Invited Guests



Thank you once again for the honour to address this important gathering.

When I first addressed this important forum, there were 15 cities, we are now 36 that is almost 76% of AU member states. Clearly the Forum is growing, I hope it grows to integrate all African capitals and cities.

As Ambassador Mpoko has already said, much and all has been said. I will therefore take a slight detour and reflect on our continent’s history.

I do so in the sincere belief that our ancient cities hold answers for future African cities, in design and content.


Our continent is rich with monuments of African cities and civilisations such as the Punt Kingdom, of around 2 500 BC which was the “Land of the Gods” rich in mercantile, gold and exotic animals.

With its towering pyramid designs the Nubian Kingdom of Kush, in Sudan, stood as an African powerhouse. These less famous pyramids show what our ancient cities were like.

There is also the seaside commercial hub of Carthage in Tunisia which was founded around the 8th century BC. At its peak, this capital city boasted nearly half a million inhabitants and included a protected harbour outfitted with docking bays for about 220 ships.

There are the spectacular stone obelisks of the Kingdom of Aksum of the 2nd century A.D, in Ethiopia which was a trading juggernaut with its own written script known as Ge’ez. The gold and ivory made the city of Axum was a vital link between ancient Europe and the Far East, long before globalisation made it into the common lexicon.

Our cities also had capable and visionary leaders such as Malian Sundiata Keita who united his subjects into a new state and built the magnificent trading and university cities of Djenné and Timbuktu. Today if you are fortunate enough to make the journey to Timbuktu’s Sankore University, you will see the library which houses some of the estimated 700 000 manuscripts.

Our ancient cities also had design innovation and lasting utility, such as the stacked granite boulders, stone towers and defensive walls of the 15th Century Great Zimbabwe.

Though relatively little is known about our African cities’ histories, much can be found in them including the remains of artefacts such as Chinese pottery, Arabian glass and European textiles. Much about them bares testimony to the supportive role they played in the trades, mining and many other things that took place in them.

Ancient African cities also have rich astronomical heritages. The Dogon people of Mali have generational knowledge of the star Sirius A and B which appears only once in 50 years.

In constructing our future we must look at our glorious past, for in order to know where we are going we must know where we come from.

Unfortunately the development of our cities and nations was abruptly interrupted by others who wanted to build their own cities.

There are a few narratives that more evocatively captures Africa’s past, as the extract from Ben Okri’s Infinite Riches:

“It was indeed a splendid road. It had been built by the natives, supervised by the Governor-General. He dreamt that on this beautiful road all Africa’s wealth, its gold and diamonds and diverse mineral resources, its food, its energies, its labours, its intelligence would be transported to his land, to enrich the lives of his people across the green ocean.”


He goes on to say:

“Deep in his happy sleep the Governor-General dreamt of taking the Golden Stool of the Ashante king, the thinking masks of Bamako, the storytelling rocks of Zimbabwe, the symphonic Victoria Falls, the shapely tusks of Luo elephants, the slumbering trees of immemorial forests, the languorous river Niger, the enduring pyramids of the Nile, all the deltas rich with oil, the mountains rifted with metals apocalyptic, the mines shimmering with gold, the ancestral hills of Kilimanjaro, the lexicon of African rituals, the uncharted hinterland of Africa’s unconquerable spirits.

He dreamt of taking Africa’s timber-like men, their pomegranate women, their fertile sculptures, their plaintive songs, their spirit-worlds, their forest animals, their sorceries, their myths and their strong dances.

He dreamt that the natives would transport all these resources tangible and intangible, on their heads, or on litters, walking on the great road, in an orderly single file, across the Atlantic Ocean, for three thousand miles.

He dreamt of having all these riches transported to his land.

Some of them would be locked up in air-conditioned basements, for the benefit of Africa, because Africans did not know how to make the best use of them, and because his people could protect them better. He dreamt of having them in the basement of a great museum, to be studied, and to aid, in some obscure way, the progress of the human race.

He dreamt of the great road on which all the fruits and riches of African lives would be directed towards sweetening the sleep of his good land.


He did not dream of the hunger he would leave behind.”

Some of the things we are challenged with have their roots from that type of history.

In the second phase, the imperial powers established colonies over almost the whole of Africa. This process was completed after they divided up Africa between them at the Berlin Conference of 1884. Their aim was to use the super-exploitation of African labour to extract raw materials, ship them to Europe, and turn them into products to be sold at a huge profit, including selling them back to Africans. Thus their design was un-African, unwelcoming to the natives, and had no design desire to ensure that future Africans are integrated into the cities.

I recall when I grew up and we would visit the bustling town of Pietermaritzburg, the English sign on the lamp post tied dustbins would read “Keep Your City Clean”. The Zulu version was Lahla La. Simply put “throw here”. The city, like all colonial cities, was not for Africans!!!

It was excluding you as you walked in the streets, it was exclusion even in language as language influences the mind. Take for instance when we were discussing in the AU everything was chairman. Up to then there were no women because we had to elect chairmen when we changed the language to chairperson, people begun to realise it can be anyone. Language determines the attitude and influences the mind.

Colonial cities were designed for a few and the African was merely supposed to provide labour to the city. Black people were out there in the townships and dormitories. To this day this informs our city designs and influences wealth generation in our cities. A majority of Africans utilise significant portions of their income to travel to work in the cities. In South Africa that is up to a third of their income.

However our forebears were not going to go down without putting up a fight, the great African armies in Isandlwana in South Africa and Adwa in Ethiopia, defeated the mighty armies of the colonisers.

Some of those battles were led by women. For instance, in Angola in the 17th century, the powerful Queen Nzinga kept the marauding Portuguese at bay by creating alliances with other kingdoms.

In Ghana, the Queen Mother of the Akan people, protected the interests of the people by ensuring that the tax and revenue collected was used to further the education of the children.

It is a recognition of this simultaneously glorious and dark past that led to our leaders attempting to ensure Africa’s institutions were robust and adequately equipped to help create the conditions for an African Renaissance, an Africa destiny determined by Africans.

In this regard, the first half of the 20th century, until the end of the Second World War in 1945, was marked by the rise of new form of African Nationalism and new forms of resistance. This was aptly surmised by Pixley ka Isaka Seme in 1906, as a student at Columbia University in the United States:

“The African already recognises his anomalous position and desires a change. The brighter day is rising upon Africa. Already I seem to see her chains dissolved, her desert plains red with harvest, her Abyssinia and her Zululand the seats of science and religion, reflecting the glory of the rising sun from the spires of their churches and universities. And the Gambia full of commerce”

This influenced our people here and in the diaspora.

Indeed, although it would take decades, the sun did rise in what we now know as the first wave, when in the 1950’s and 1960’s starting with Ghana more than 19 new states were born and 19 new magnificent African flags raised to salute independence.

Even as these states found expression, they largely replicated colonial planning, towns and cities. In that first wave urbanisation became a norm as the villages and rural areas emptied into the cities. Bursting in the seams the cities could not cope with the large inflow of villagers who now began to enjoy free movement owing to the abandonment of influx control laws and policies of the erstwhile colonial masters. The cities, could simply not cope with these large numbers which were not in the plans of the colonial planners.

In the seventies, shanty towns dotted our capitals, sewers emptied themselves into the streets, and our cities grew haphazardly paying no attention to any spatial plan whatsoever.

During that second and third wave, military might and macro-economic development received the most of attention as Africans sought African solutions for African problems, very much as Ghanaian President Kwame Nkrumah once said:

“It is clear that we must find an African solution to our problems, and that this can only be found in African unity. Divided we are weak; united, Africa could become one of the greatest forces for good in the world.”

Noting the paradox of a rich Africa but poor Africans we began our path towards regional collaboration and sustainable development. However once again we looked everywhere for solutions and neglected our design history and culture.

We are called upon to take what is good from our own culture and history whilst integrating those with good practice from elsewhere as has been said by Ambassador Mpoko.

We have in the past also exclusively focused our resources on retrofitting colonial living spaces with really only one new capital city being built in Abuja Nigeria in the 70s and 80s.


Distinguished Guests, This gathering is therefore an opportunity to learn from our past and provide African solutions for African cities and by Africans themselves.

With the fastest growing urban population in the world, Africa’s cities are set to grow by nearly a billion people by 2050. In less than 20 years from now every second person in Africa is likely to live in a town or a city.

Even in this country 25 years on we are 60 % urban moving from 40%.

Some of us are dual citizens of urban and rural, it an African phenomenon Monday to Friday we are in urban areas and then we go rural on weekends and holidays.

AS we move forward, It is clear therefore that in our deliberations over the next few days, one of the questions we must answer is how we are going to complement urbanisation with rural development, whilst also making our cities more inclusive, safer, resilient and sustainable as stipulated in the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals is no easy task. There are various interpretations of rural development for us it means brining urban infrastructure and facilities to rural areas.

The 900 million working-age people that will be added to Africa’s cities by 2050 will require that we also pay attention to the nature employment in new work areas, but also in key sectors such as agriculture.

These cities will need to feed themselves and we must explore vertical farming in the cities as well as hydroponic farming owing to the climate change challenges currently confronting our continent. With one in four people still undernourished in our continent we are challenged by the impacts of climate change to improve food security and hunger.


As we have progressed and grown our cities, so have greenhouse gas emissions. According to the Climate Change Vulnerability Index seven of the ten countries most at risk from climate change are in Africa, this due to our growing appetite for energy. We should all be concerned that most cities on Earth are at risk of flooding from rising sea levels and powerful storms.

The time to act is Now!!.

It is no exaggeration to say, with droughts, flooding and melting of glaciers, that climate change is the greatest challenge facing this generation.

The financial effects of climate change can be just as devastating as the physical ones. Unexpected expenditures from storms, flooding, snow removal and drought can lead to major disruptions in business operations and city budgets.

At the moment, urbanization in many African countries is creating more challenges than opportunities. The ability to harness and benefit from the region-wide demographic shift toward cities will help determine whether African countries succeed in addressing a range of social, environmental and conflict -related crises.

No African government, therefore, can afford to ignore the ongoing urban transition that is taking place across the continent. The UN has advised African governments to take ‘early action to position themselves for predominately urban populations’.[1]


Ladies and Gentlemen, It is therefore critical that we implement just and development orientated National Urban Policies (NUPs) as anticipated by Habitat III in 2016. That framework calls upon us to pay particular attention to strengthening our local governments. NUPs can bring greater coherence and legitimacy to authorities and agents in cities and—critically—recalibrate the balance of power shared by different levels of government, state-owned enterprises (SOEs), civil society and the private sector.

To date, at least 18 African countries have NUPs or policies that resemble NUPs. South Africa has adopted the Integrated Urban Development Framework (IUDF), as our national urban policy, influenced and informed by Agenda 2063 and its strategic goals, and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) adopted by the UN Assembly in 2015. Goal 11: ‘Making cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable’ is directly linked to sustainable urbanisation.

We also know that by 2030, six of the world’s 41 megacities will be in Africa. Johannesburg, Luanda and Dar es Salaam will join the existing trio of Cairo, Lagos and Kinshasa as Africa’s megacities that will absorb a significant share of their national populations. They are key drivers of their countries’ economic performance and connect Africa to the global economy.

Ladies and gentlemen, the principles and objectives of the IUDF buttress this year’s theme: “Collective responsibility for sustainable African Capital Cities” through the whole of society approach. Indeed, collective leadership and what we call Ubuntu – I am because we are- is a typical African value and a way of doing things.

It is true that Africa’s time is now, but we have to seize the moment in order to realise this growth of the continent, our growth has to be accompanied by home grown solutions and infrastructure investments which must transform and diversify our economies. Through infrastructure support we can catapult the Africa Continental Free Trade Area so that we increase real income gain by 37Billion Dollars. Integration should be a means not an end. We need to make sure that it is people-driven and inclusive. We must also make sure that Africa produces enough to trade with itself, otherwise others will utilize this trade window.

As we look to the future and implement Agenda 2063: The Africa We Want we must emphasize the role that our capitals can play in making us reach our socio-economic growth trajectory.

We must enhance free movement with the implementation of the African Passport by all AU member states.


To conclude I want to borrow Sarah Nandudu’s, (Vice Chairperson of the National Slum Dwellers Federation of Uganda and Deputy Chair of the Board of Slum Dwellers International (SDI)) words and call upon each and everyone of you to join hands in tackling urbanisation in a more sustainable way.

Africa’s future is urban – but its towns and cities will only thrive if they deliver climate-resilient housing, infrastructure, services and jobs for everyone. We have a short window of opportunity to put in place strategic plans that can lift millions of people out of poverty and reduce their vulnerability to climate risk.”

The power to do lies in the cities!

Those cities whose governments already have National Urban Policies in place, let us enhance implementation by sharing experiences and lessons learnt across the continent, and those that do not have urban policies in place, must work with their central governments in developing such.

In the State of the Nation Address last week the President has provoked our thoughts as we deal with urbanisation by asking the question:

“has the time not arrive to be bold and do what we believe is impossible, has the time not arrive to build a new smart city founded on the technologies of 4IR”

Maybe this is the perfect room to answer these questions. As people entrusted with planning and creating sustainable cities, let us be bold, let’s make use of technologies brought by the fourth industrial revolution and build smart cities in our countries.

We have the opportunity as Africans to build new cities that reflect both our rich heritage, and the democratic and gender balanced character of the Africa we want. Our people must have a strong sense of ownership of their cities, so that the cities grow with them as owners of the city.

Already, we have been inspired by cities such as Ebène in Mauritius which is a self-contained smart city which is host to the internet registry platform for the whole continent. We have been inspired by Kigali which is one of the cleanest and most connected city in the world. We have looked in awe as plans are set afoot to realise Hope City in Ghana. HOPE stands for Home, Office, People and Environment. We have looked in admiration as Abuja grows its Centenary City, to carry with it the hope of Africans.

We will build a truly African smart and connected city, to realise the South Africa and Africa We Want.

Africa has the best opportunity to take advantage of the demographic dividend by building smart cities in order to tap into the skills and knowledge of its citizens

Asante Sane

Merci becoup


I thank you!


[1] UN-Habitat. 2010. The State of African Cities 2010. Nairobi, Kenya: UN-Habitat, p. 1.

[1]UN-Habitat. 2010. The State of African Cities 2010. Nairobi, Kenya: UN-Habitat, p. 1.