Pali Lehohla is the former statistician-general of South Africa and former head of Statistics South Africa. Photo: Thobile Mathonsi
Pali Lehohla is the former statistician-general of South Africa and former head of Statistics South Africa. Photo: Thobile Mathonsi

The legends of Covid-19 and technology

By Opinion Time of article published Dec 13, 2020

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COVID-19 should raise critical questions on the viability of real estate as a key driver of agglomerations. But can the pandemic and technology drive society towards flattening the concentration of riches and paving the way to a more equitable society?

They have redefined working patterns with most people working from home.

When we embarked on building a home for statistics in South Africa as early as 2007, the question of working from home was always in the back of our minds.

When we decided on the construction of ISibalo House in 2014, with lettable space of 50000 square meters, the notion had not disappeared.

After all real estate has been a prime expression of urbanisation in the 21st century. Sandton has become the most expensive square kilometre in Africa and compares well with other global city centres.

The question is will it survive the pre-eminence of working from home as reinforced by our ten months experience as a result of Covid-19.

For a long time cities were engines of growth and innovation driven by dis-economies of urbanisation. Cities are agglomerations sparked by discovery of minerals and mining towns alongside others such as centres of learning that created phenomena such as student towns and enclaves.

The 20th century city became commercial centres driven by finance and trade in stocks such as the JSE, Wall Street, Futsi etc.

Scholars of human activity model Hermanus Geyer and Thomas Kontuly opinee on the progression and evolution of urban systems.

They were particularly keen in differential urbanisation and counter urbanisation emerging from decadence of megacities.

But modern cities are predominantly commercial centres. They are not driven by locational attributes such as natural resources like minerals, rainfall or fertility of land. Technology and its ubiquitous drive for virtualisation of reality have, however, put to question the preeminence of the tertiary sector’s ability to drive agglomerations.

In fact technological advances dismantle this notion. Zoomerisation and uberisation of services are disruptors to agglomerations. This places a major question to urban centres as engines of growth and whether urbanisation by itself in the 21st century can be considered as an engine of innovation.

Urban morphology is about the concentration of wealth and production. What the ubiquitous technology lends itself to is the advent of distributed networks and flattening of the urban nodes. Marx and Engels expounded on the role of technology in a world where the contradictions inherent in the human relations of production are eliminated. They argued that technological advances would eliminate dangerous work from human beings with the deployment of robots in the danger filled spaces and

raising capacities of productive forces. Human beings will in such times be preoccupied with being human – through increased multilateralism and building humanity. In short living up to the notion of Ubuntu. They were quite clear that technological advancements were inconsistent with capitalism and accumulation. It is therefore not so surprising that the millennials are conscious of the type of life they aspire for. It is often far removed from bling. They are driven by improvement of planet and people for prosperity. Covid-19 might be a strange comrade in the dethroning of capitalism. For that we may have to thank two strange fellows in the clarion call for workers of the world to unite: the pangolin and the bat.

Dr Lehohla is the former Statistician-General of South Africa and the former head of Statistics South Africa.

BUSINESS REPORT

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