May 27, 2021

South African smart cities and the future of connectivity

By Steve Briggs, Chief Sales and Marketing Officer at SEACOM.

South African President Cyril Ramaphosa has a dream to build the country’s first interconnected smart city. This 21st Century urban settlement will be defined by the sustainability of its investment in human capital, transport, information and communications technology (ICT) infrastructure and economic development. All of these factors will contribute to a higher quality of life for citizens.

While this plan may sound a bit utopian, especially in a country that struggles with poverty and unemployment, it is a concept that could easily turn into a reality in the near future. With the right infrastructure and development partners, a smart city can be achieved within the next decade. So, how far are we from reaching the President’s vision?

President Ramaphosa first announced his ambitions at the 2019 State of the Nation (SONA) address. Lanseria Smart City, as it was dubbed, is under development and the masterplan was finalised at the end of 2020. However, to achieve this dream, we need to remember that smart cities revolve around technology - not just installing digital interfaces into buildings, but to actually use technology and data to make better decisions and improve life.

This means choosing the right partners; those that are true specialists in the field of ICT and technology. Interconnected technologies and smart cities will rely on the digital infrastructure laid out by these partners, so the planning and decision-making needs to be truly world-class. South Africa could see the completion of Lanseria Smart City as a shining example of a real smart city if the right players are involved.

The current situation

The United Nations (UN) has declared internet access as a human right, which means that online connectivity is now just as important a service as electricity, water and sanitation. Smart cities are the encapsulation of achieving all 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) outlined by the UN. These SDGs have been compiled to ensure a more prosperous future for all peoples of the world.

A recent survey conducted by ESI Thoughtlab took into account 167 cities from six regions of the world - Africa, Asia Pacific, Europe, Latin America, the Middle East and North America. The survey analysed the use of smart technologies and data analytics across urban ecosystems. The cities were classified based on their progress and use of technology to improve social, environmental and economic spheres of life.

Of the 167 cities, 22% were classified as smart city leaders, 49% as intermediates and 29% as beginners. The study also used in-depth data on the cities’ investments, outcomes and returns. It was concluded that African cities are the least advanced when it comes to using data and technology to engage their citizens.

According to Gerald Uche Maduabuchi, one of the contributors to the survey, “Africa faces the most challenges in meeting the SDG commitments, with its high levels of environmental degradation, poverty and unemployment. However, social media and mobile broadband penetration provide some unique opportunities for smart city solutions”. Despite having the second smallest average technology budget, Africa still has the will and ambition to develop smart cities.

Hope for the future of smart cities

Locally, the Ekurhuleni Municipality has been rated as an ‘Advancer’ city, based on its SDG progress. This means that it is an intermediate smart city that is maturing as progress is being made steadily. Technology and data across various urban domains is being used in partnership with world-leading connectivity and cloud service partners. These partnerships between government, businesses and ICT specialists are vital for cities to meet SDG goals.

One of the preconditions for a smart city is widespread access to the internet and connectivity. In South Africa, this is constrained by high data costs which makes it extremely difficult for the majority of citizens to get access to high-quality connectivity. The first step for local municipalities is to create free WiFi services in public spaces, as has already been implemented in Johannesburg and Tshwane.

Other initiatives, such as the electronic metering of electricity and water, will also help to facilitate the beginnings of a smart city. The biggest investments currently being made by many African cities are in the mobile, biometrics, Internet of Things and cloud technologies. These areas are where the private sector and government can collaborate in order to fast-track smart city ambitions.

Connectivity infrastructure remains the major arterial system for the life of smart cities. These networks and systems must be developed and implemented by ICT specialists that share the same vision as the president and those who know that smart cities are the future. For more information or to get a quote for our ICT infrastructure solutions, email us at or leave us a message.

SEACOM owns Africa’s most extensive network of information and communications technology (ICT) infrastructure, including subsea cables and secure internet connections. We offer a diverse range of flexible, scalable and high-quality solutions for businesses that meet world-class standards for connectivity.

SEACOM is privately owned and operated, making it agile and adaptable to the needs of the customer. This makes us the preferred ICT and internet connectivity partner for African businesses and peripheral service providers. We can guarantee high-speed, low-latency and secure internet connections to corporates and small enterprises.

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