South Africa has experienced many challenges this past year, yet I have always seen the country has a nation filled with resilience and hope. My Africa Day message as the president of the South African Institute of Architects (SAIA) was:
Africa is a young continent, with 70% of its population being under the age of 30, it is a continent of hope.
Without denying the realities of war, corruption and poverty, we must still be able to see the incredible opportunity that exists in Africa. We need to be alert to new forms exploitation and colonisation to which Africa is subjected. Geopolitical complexities, climate change and foreign interests are often obstructions to Africa’s development.
Yet, African countries are pioneers. In Africa, we find grass-root initiatives at local level, at site level, in communities, away from the prevalent news cycles, we find governance systems, decision-making mechanisms, financial support systems that are highly evolved and that may be the answers to conceptualising an alternative future where the focus is on decentralised, and local systems of innovation.
These unique systems kicked into action in South Africa with the COVID pandemic and we see them now in places like Sudan that is facing a war. It is always community-based systems which offer the most support as formal systems fail.
African cities are sites of incredible creativity.
We need an alternative, unique, forward-looking and intelligently-optimistic outlook – a counter-narrative to the doom and gloom of political analysis that dominates the news cycle about Africa.
Yet, I must agree, it has not been the easiest of times being a South African. We are currently enduring the Rand dropping to R19.71 to the dollar, a decline of over 12% since the start of the year. Loadshedding has risen to a crisis point, directly affecting the livelihoods of our citizens. Some parts of the country experience up to 10 hours of no power a day, and this paints a worrying picture for the winter months. We see a growing apprehension towards our government and we can only see these matters gaining momentum until the elections in 2024.
These serious issues, coupled with the increased unemployment and crime rates, makes our current situation hard – and our worries for the future real.
Across our borders, there are concerning conflicts in Africa and in Europe. A crisis anywhere in Africa affects the whole continent. We are also challenged by the Russia and Ukraine war. Wars beyond our borders mean a weaker rand, increased fuel and bread costs and more in-migration.
As SAIA president, I have deliberately and systematically constantly encouraged public engagement on these and other matters. Through the realm of architecture, we can make a difference and we encourage architects to contribute and be heard.
At critical times in our recent history, I have either volunteered an opinion (always from a spatial and architectural perspective), or been invited to offer an opinion (usually when crisis hits).
Here are some of the published works and video recaps:
Crisis is an opportunity to heal South Africa’s divisive spatial geographies
Looking at Housing Differently
Assessing SA’s acute housing shortage with Prof Amira Osman
Housing Focus | Looking at challenges with Prof Amira Osman
Launch of the Global Action Plan Framework on Informal Settlements and Slums: Prof Amira Osman
Looking at Housing Differently, Upholding Professional Excellence.
Q&A: Amira Osman wants architecture to take centre stage
South Africa urgently needs to rethink its approach to housing
What architects must learn from South African student protests