In 2009 Stats SA, through Professor Hermanus Geyer, created the Centre for Regional Innovation and Statistical Exploration (Cruise) at the University of Stellenbosch for purposes of training statisticians in regional science and making the value of statistics visible and valuable in planning.
This eventuated a dream I shared with Professor Geyer on our very first meeting in 1992 at the University of Potchefstroom where after reading his journal article I proposed to him that we need an institute that will train statisticians in this discipline, because without it there will not be convergence between statistics and planning.
It took another 16 years for this dream to eventuate and the first batch of officials from Stats SA to be trained started in 2011. This batch of 12 consisted of deputy directors-general and chief directors, the majority of whom had doctoral degrees.
The choice was deliberate, because the programme needed both intellectual leadership and institutional authority.
To date, 71 officials have taken a year’s sabbatical to train at this centre. The journal throughput of the centre has elevated Stellenbosch academic output.
Stats SA outputs have become increasingly relevant in the state, albeit major planning system deficits persist.
This article captures the proceedings of the launch of the Africa Regional Science Association (Arsa) at this the 3rd ISIbalo Cruise and the challenges that lie ahead.
A number of us from Stats SA arrived in Stellenbosch a day before, on Sunday, July 2, at different times and Risenga, Sathie and I were on the last flight.
Usually we choose this time of the year for our ISIbalo Cruise conference to take advantage of university vacation and occupy student residence accommodation at the University of Stellenbosch. Unlike a hotel, the toilets and bathrooms are outside and communal and a trip that far can in a minute wipe out your hard earned sleep.
When I arrived at about 9pm, I was confronted by many subdued faces and the discussion was about the problem of open showers where up to six male students can transparently shower.
This discussion occupied us for almost 20 minutes. Obviously there was no solution. We had to go to bed by 10 to be ready for breakfast that ends at 7am and be at the opening of the conference by 8.30am.
By 6.30am all of us had taken a shower undisturbed by others. I must say when it comes to respecting privacy, I am convinced that the men at Stats SA can be trusted with the data of citizens, they proved it can never be shared.
Back to the conference, there were a number of prominent professors, especially from Europe, where the European Regional Science International plays a crucial role in the making of the EU.
Professor Nijkamp, a renowned regional scientist from the Netherlands, pointed to three challenges the world will face. First he sees location and migration as the major planning challenges the world will have to confront. Not only where you stay, but where you intend moving to. But more importantly the reasons for staying are crucial.
However, while one would conclude the push factors to a destination are a complement of the pull factors to destination, it is sadly observed that that is not the case as the reasons are completely different.
The second problem relates to spatial disparities, where the key question is: Can such disparities coexist and be sustainable? And the third relates to settlement systems of our world and herein the key question is about the quality of life and the emergence of massive agglomerations and the future of settlements quite distinct from how we know them today.
In this regard China remains one of the pre-eminent countries and a pathfinder for these new phenomena.
For papers on South Africa, the key question that emerged was about the phenomenon of urbanisation, but the nascent and strong streams of polarisation reversal where movement to smaller urban centres is evident and accompanying these are trends in counter urbanisation. These patterns are accompanied by dominant demographic, as well as spatio-temporal patterns, which far sighted policy initiatives should anticipate. The policy question is how deliberate are South African planning systems to contend with this?
All data used in these studies came from Stats SA and importantly Census and Community Survey Data.
In his opening remarks the minister in the Presidency Jeff Radebe confirmed South Africa’s long-standing appetite for regional planning as he said: “Today marks a significant development in the regional science fraternity as we launch the Arsa, a trail-blazer in regional planning for our continent."
This historic gathering is taking place within the surrounds of Stellenbosch - a town that can be described as bearing features of integrated land use planning across the primary, secondary and tertiary productive sectors. In that sense, it is befitting that the launch of Arsa takes place here - where we also have the Centre for Cruise at Stellenbosch University (SU). But more on that later.
This initiative is welcomed within the space of urban and regional development. The National Planning Commission that I chair is also excited about this development, as the work done here gives us data for responsive policy formulation and economic development initiatives.
The launch of Arsa could not have come at a better time. I recently told parliament that South Africa needs a planning institution that has staff who are competent across disciplines such as planning, econometrics, sociology, political economy, modelling, regional science and statistics to mention but a few critical skills.
Above all, we need a system that is long-term and strategically led.
The launch of Arsa is one pillar in our march towards solving the complex phenomenon of underdevelopment.
For some time I and Professor Manie Geyer, the director of Cruise, have put their heads around this glaring anomaly or gap in having a vibrant institution for regional science in Africa.
What we are witnessing today is an example of what collaboration between public institutions and universities can achieve in building strong human resource capacity for emerging demands of statistical production.
The Cruise programme is a partnership for Masters Degrees, offered through the Cruise at the University of Stellenbosch.
Since 2011, more than 60 staff members have completed Masters Degrees through this initiative.
It is important for the National Development Plan and Agenda 2063 to understand regional and urban dynamics and how these impact on spatial planning.
We all agree that once the democratic government took over in 1994, it was easy to dismantle formal apartheid, however the legacy of this system, which was declared a crime against humanity by the UN, is proving much harder to get rid of within a generation.
Apartheid spatial planning is one such legacy that is proving difficult to end. It is a structural problem. To this end, the government has taken a decision to move Spatial Planning and Land Use Management Act (Spluma) to my department - DPME.
Among other things, Spluma seeks to provide for the inclusive, developmental, equitable and efficient spatial planning at different spheres of government. The launch of Arsa will play a major role in improving knowledge in this area.
Pali Lehohla is South Africa Statistician-General and Head of Statistics South Africa.