South Africa’s future will be decided in our cities

23 June 2023
Publication Type: Discussion Document
JEL Code: O18, P25, R12, R14
Discussion Document 14

South Africa’s cities face multiple, overlapping and interconnected challenges. This Research Project “South Africa’s Cities and Growth”, conducted in collaboration with the Centre for Development and Enterprise (CDE), aims to provoke and enrich deeper engagement by policymakers and academics on both the challenges and potential of South Africa’s cities.  

This Discussion Document is the final paper of the Research Project and is based on the previous five papers commissioned from leading local and international economists. It is not a summary of the five commissioned papers, rather, it is a reflection on what we know about South Africa’s cities, the challenges they face, and the potential they offer. It identifies some of the areas in which policymakers should act immediately and suggests a range of issues about which more focused work is urgently needed. 

  • Why does South Africa need an urban agenda and why do cities matter? 
  • How do South African cities perform in practice? 
  • Why do South African cities perform poorly? 
  • How can South Africa’s cities do better? 


Like cities everywhere, South Africa’s might be thought of as machines that are able to convert human energies into economic output more efficiently than is possible in other, less dense forms of human settlement. They are, in effect, mechanisms for generating higher levels of labour productivity. This body of research has been commissioned from leading local and international economists to generate new insights and inspire further research on the economics of cities in South Africa. 

Discussion Document 14
26 June 2023

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