South African urban nodes and settlements face complex developmental challenges which require coordinated governance and investment interventions. However, municipalities, cities and national and provincial government departments are faced with the reality of limited resources, pressures to increase delivery over the short term, as well as the need for structural spatial-economic transformation, whilst considering future sustainability.

In a recent research project conducted by the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), in collaboration with the South African Cities Network (SACN) and the Department of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs (CoGTA), the alignment of spatial strategies were explored. The project undertook to investigate the spatial ‘logic’ between the plethora of instruments that guide planning, resource allocation, implementation and monitoring and evaluation within specific cities and towns. These instruments are developed and used by a variety of intergovernmental role players, but aimed at impacting shared areas of jurisdiction. The study therefore undertook a review of a number of these planning instruments, placing specific focus on those that are spatial in nature, to extract key lessons regarding aspects that support or hinder spatial alignment and the value of the methodology followed in evaluating and exploring spatial alignment.

A case study approach was followed to analyse the national, provincial and local spatial plans relevant to three spatially delimited areas. The case study selection was done on the basis of including a variety of settlement types so as to find and compare evidence of spatial alignment in places of various sizes, capacity and spatial challenges. It was decided to select one metropolitan area (Ekurhuleni in Gauteng), a fast growing city or regional centre (Rustenburg in North West), and a fast growing small to medium sized town (Lephalale in Limpopo).

Insights & Findings

The study involved a contextualisation of national intergovernmental planning instruments that play a key role in providing spatial strategic guidance to role players within and across spheres. The study mainly focussed on conducting analyses and a review of national, provincial and local plans and spatial elements within plans to check for alignment of spatial strategies.

Some of the findings from the study can be summarised as follows:

  • Alignment in terms of investment in prioritised spaces occurs mainly in the form of a number of projects being implemented in the same space by various government role players. There is little evidence of how this is leading to incremental benefits. Place specific investment is neither pro-active nor coordinated between different sectors or spheres of government.
  • Coordinated spatial investment is hampered by a plethora of plans that are often outdated, not publically available and which lack financial investment support and accountability. Sector departments (on a national as well as local scale) often have different targets and use different investment logics, hampering coordination. Possibly the greatest issue is that plans are often not spatially explicit or forward looking enough.
  • There is tension between investment aimed at addressing service delivery crises and investment aimed at addressing city-wide challenges, supporting economic development and contributing to a sustainable urban form. Where long term critical issues are mentioned, there is limited indication of phased and programmatic coordinated approached in response to these.
  • Evidence suggests effective top down vertical alignment between national and provincial and local sector/line department plans and strategies in terms of their broad strategies, priorities and budgets. Whilst there seems to be solid vertical alignment within the respective functional sectors, horizontal and place based alignment remain a challenge since local plans do not effectuate these broad strategies as set out within key regional and national strategies.
  • Spatial Development Frameworks fall short in spatial prioritisation, coordinating intergovernmental investment and influencing the investment by provincial and national departments as well as by agencies of government. Furthermore, regardless of integrated development planning processes, sectors within local municipalities are not well-aligned in terms of the spatial focus, outcomes, phasing or joint objectives within municipalities.

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The findings from the study will be used to inform the extensive diagnostic processes of the World Bank’s Urbanisation Review Framework. Presentations on project findings have been delivered by Amy Pieterse at the International Winelands Conference 2016 and by Elsona van Huyssteen at the Planning Alignment Task Team meeting of March 2016.


Core Team:

CSIR: Amy Pieterse, Elsona Van Huyssteen, Willemien Van Niekerk, Alize Le Roux, Dumisani Ndaba, Simangele Mahlalela

Acknowledgement to contributors for updates & dissemination:

  • SACN: Geci Karuri Sebina, Peter Magni
  • CoGTA: Modjadji Malahlela, Thandeka Kabeni

For more information contact:

Amy Pieterse, CSIR


Elsona van Huyssteen, CSIR,

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