A metro remodelled

Papiki Moeng, MMC for Development Planning and Urban Management. (Supplied)

Papiki Moeng, MMC for Development Planning and Urban Management. (Supplied)

It is easy to dismiss the city of Bloemfontein as little more than a blip on the map located in the middle of the country. The Mangaung Metropolitan Municipality is intent on changing this perception and is entering the second half of a five-year Integrated Development Plan that is radically changing the face of the city.

Papiki Moeng, MMC for development planning and urban management, explains that this ambitious plan is an all-encompassing blueprint that aims to respond to the spacial distortion the metro inherited from apartheid-era urban planning. This is manifest most starkly in the communities of Botshabelo and Thaba Nchu that lie almost 70km east of the municipal and provincial capital Bloemfontein.

Jointly, these two communities match the capital city in population numbers, but sadly they lack the same levels of development and facilities. “Essentially we have two main development nodes that will ignite, in practical terms, the N8 development node that links Bloemfontein to these settlements,” explains Moeng.

Mangaung is unique in its designation as a metropolitan municipality because it is predominantly made up of rural settlements. It is in fact the second largest metro in the country, covering 6 283 km2², which is only marginally smaller than the Tshwane metro. Moeng says the development plan has therefore been designed to accommodate these peculiarities. “The people of Botshabelo and Thaba Nchu rely heavily on Bloemfontein for their livelihoods. This has created a commuting pattern that is inequitable, risky, expensive and not financially sustainable.”

Connecting communities

He says that the municipality feels the impact of this, and has an annual commitment of R200-million dedicated solely for bus subsidies to move commuters between these settlements and Bloemfontein. The metro’s development plan therefore emphasises these two communities as central to its long-term plans.

“That is an area in need of jobs, it is an area where there is the greatest levels of poverty and squalor, and ironically where people spend more money proportionate to their income,” Moeng says.

Mangaung metro is currently in discussion with national government, he explains, to determine whether the development plans for the communities can be incorporated under the national infrastructure development programme. It is also engaging with public agencies and entities such as the Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa, the South African National Roads Agency and Eskom, as well as private sector organisations as a means to create momentum for its plans. “We have taken the view that we can’t wait for a grand solution and need to do it incrementally,” Moeng says.

Given the lack of sufficient transport infrastructure, Mangaung will be looking to incorporate a commuter rail service into the metro’s integrated transport network plans. This involves repurposing pre-existing rail lines connecting Botshabelo and Thaba Nchu to Bloemfontein, as well as building facilities to support economic activity in the immediate vicinity.

Development plans

Construction has already started on the interchange linking the communities to the N8 highway as well as an extensive recreation park that serves the metro’s plans to improve the communities’ living spaces. The design work for other developments has been completed with implementation slated for the new financial year that kicks off in July this year.

The second significant pillar of Mangaung’s development plans is centred on its R100-billion airport development node. The recent renaming of the airport to Bram Fischer International Airport is but one of the many elements of this project. “This is the single largest airport development project owned and driven by a municipality in the SADC region,” Moeng stresses.

This 2 000ha project is as ambitious as it is essential to orchestrate its economic transformation. The project is expected to make a significant contribution to broadening its revenue base, increase economic activity and boost employment. Moeng says 11 000 jobs will be created in the development phase, which involves laying down roads, storm water and electricity infrastructure. The design work for the second phase is at an advanced stage, while the 700ha first phase that is concerned with the development of an integrated aerocity is currently under way.

A R100-billion price tag has been placed on the entire project once this infrastructure has been created and private sector participation has been attracted. “We have adopted a unique model for this project by which the municipality owns land that is prime in location and size, so we are not going to be selling chunks of land,” explains Moeng.

“We will be planning, servicing and releasing blocks to investors.” The economic merit of this approach is justified by the numbers: the recently released first batch of land has been attracting R670/m2² compared to the R30/m2² price the municipality had previously been selling land at.

“The point we are making is that this not just a development, it’s a development aimed at turning around the financial fortunes of the municipality and making it more viable. And we anticipate the price will continue to rise as the development matures,” he says.

Other elements include a multi-modal transport system, a regional mall and mixed housing development and an industrial area. Phase two of the project includes the development of a dry port that Moeng says aims to make better use of the substantial, but under-utilised capacity at the airport. This dry port will function as a transit hub for goods produced in the immediate and wider region, with plans to incorporate a processing centre into this facility.

“We want to maximise value-add in agricultural products for further transportation and sale in and outside the region, and internationally,” he says. “We want to explore growth in markets in the Far East and Asia and see how we can trade directly through this processing hub.”

Attracting tourists

Apart from these mainstays of Mangaung’s redevelopment, the city is also looking to improve its attractiveness as a tourist destination. One of the main features of the development is the construction of an international convention centre, which ties in with the metro’s tourism development plans.

Moeng says these plans are diverse and draw on existing attractions and drawcards, such as the annual Macufe African Cultural Festival, which has attracted visitors to the city to experience more of its offerings. Existing infrastructure is also being revitalised to increase tourist appeal, with significant investment being directed to the Naval Hill landmark. This is a unique attraction that overlooks the city and is one of only two game reserves globally that is surrounded by urban development.

Moeng says the new, digital planetarium, which is only the second such facility on the continent, and the world-class Naval Hill restaurant are key features that city officials believe will increase tourist visits and boost the local economy. Inner-city development has also been aligned with Mangaung’s vision of revitalising the city’s prospects and fortunes. This includes an inter-nodal citywide transport system comprising buses, a BRT network, commuter rail and taxis.

“This is not just a transportation system,” Moeng says. “It helps us to reform our city space and regenerate the economy in areas of historical decline. We don’t want a transport system that deals only with mobility, we want to reform to the greatest extent of economic empowerment.”

This article has been paid for and signed off by the Mangaung Metropolitan Municipality.