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  At the recent World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, a short but powerful film was shown about the state of the world's cities and the many, often surprising, benefits inherent in urbanisation.

The film is instructive in that it highlights the way in which people, no matter how poor, manage to eke out a living once they move from the rural areas to shack-towns nearer cities.

Whether it's India, South America or China, the trends in people movement are the same. Cape Town circa 2010 will be no different. In fact, already we are seeing the impact of urbanisation on our city.  Naturally, too, as this happens, more pressure will be placed on infrastructure, delivery programmes and health services.

Rapid urbanisation is only one of the challenges that will face our city and country in the run-up towards 2010.  So focused are we on 2010 that it seems as if the year itself represents some magical line in the sand.

While working towards a goal as significant as the 2010 World Cup will do much to exercise our collective mind on a specific task, our challenges will remain post the World Cup.

Poverty, unemployment, housing and infrastructure are a few of the city's challenges that will require creative and systematic solutions.

For all the technocratic solutions and bureaucracy that will be needed to deal with such challenges, the true challenge will be leadership thus ensuring that Cape Town becomes a "world-class city".

Having said that, the notion of a "world-class city" can be somewhat problematic in the context within which we operate.  What do we mean by this when we live in a society with deep fault-lines of poverty and inequality, where access to resources and opportunities remains largely dependent on one's race and social mobility?

The challenges for Cape Town, in essence, are no different to those facing broader society: poverty, unemployment, disease, corruption, inequality, population growth and urbanisation.  These challenges are also inter-linked to a certain degree.

So, assuming we discard the notion of building a "world-class city" in favour of building a city in which sustainable development is given priority, we will need to outline a few key priorities if we are to avoid the pitfalls of speaking but not acting.

It can be argued that the two most important ingredients of building a sustainable future are moving away from the "consumerisation of politics", where citizens are treated as passive recipients of services, towards a more citizen-centred democracy.

Secondly, is the need for constructive leadership.  This city has had its fair share of leadership crises over the past years. Across party lines, Cape Town seems to have attracted some of the most unstrategic leadership, which often, instead of drawing the citizens of this city together, divides them even further.  Clearly, if Cape Town is to fulfil its potential and become a vibrant, inclusive, winning city, it will take a special kind of leadership.

When South Africa was negotiating its democratic settlement, the outcome was always going to depend on the type of leadership the country had - across the political divide - and the need to seek compromise where it was inevitable and necessary.  Somehow we seemed to produce this in immense quantities, as mostly reasonable men and women negotiated South Africa's future with a clarity of purpose.

Thirteen years later and it seems as if our society is again in desperate need of value-laden leadership.

What sort of leadership will Cape Town need as we work towards 2010 and beyond?  Importantly, what values should infuse such leadership and where in society do we find it?

While there is often the temptation to import values and ways of doing things, the South African constitution provides us with probably the closest expression of our common values that we will find.

At all levels of society, South Africans are being challenged to rethink and reshape the values that underpin our society.  Specifically, we are collectively being challenged to think about the centrality of our democratic institutions in deepening our democracy and which values should infuse them.

If such institutions are to be effective in promoting democracy and making the constitutional principles of openness, transparency and accountability live, it becomes crucial that they are led by people of integrity.

The constitution provides us with a clear idea of the kind of society and leadership we need if we are to meet the challenges of South Africa.  For it is a transformative document which envisages a society in which elected representatives are responsive and accountable and make decisions openly and transparently.

It will be imperative that, as we move towards 2010, the sort of leadership we demand is leadership which meets the standards of the constitution and which assists communities in forging a collective or common vision for our city.

Last year, the presidency released its macro-social report, entitled A Nation in the Making, which detailed the state of South African society.  In the timeous report, the authors ask whether "societies as diverse as ours … (can) define and collectively pursue a national vision?"

Of course the salient question for a city like Cape Town would be whose vision?

As the macro-social report points out, one of the major challenges for South Africa will be finding such a collective vision and basing it on a common understanding of what it is that holds South Africans together.

While this is easier said than done given our diverse society and fractious past, the question deserves to be asked repeatedly.  It is even more relevant in Cape Town as citizens seek a common understanding of what it means to live in a polarised, often divided and parochial city.

If we are to embrace leadership in its most complete sense, it will mean that we start looking for direction beyond the narrow confines of party politics.  Cape Town will only really succeed if we garner the expertise and leadership at all levels of society.  This will, of course, mean taking an inclusive approach to leadership - not only across party divisions but also inclusive leadership from across civil society, business and other areas of city life.

It will mean reaching out to our communities so that the city is not seen as an enclave of privilege for those able to afford the luxury apartments and the top-notch restaurants.  For, if Cape Town is to succeed it would have to become more than a playground for the "haves".

At all levels, specifically at the level of city and provincial leadership, there has been a tussle for power over the past years, which has seen power change hands, often at such a speed that the citizens of this city and province have been left bewildered and often apathetic.

The city's multi-party government has the task of both providing leadership to the city while at the same time delivering to citizens.  This will not be easy, as it battles to maintain the balance between politics and governing.

But how do we create the inclusive, responsive leadership which the constitution envisages and the city needs?

The constitution again provides a basic framework and places the citizen at its heart.  Creating a citizen-centric democracy, or simpler, putting citizens at the heart of what it is our city wants and needs will be the key to any success ahead of 2010.

For as Helena Kennedy says in her critique of Tony Blair's new Labour Party in Just Law, published in 2004, "There is a need to reposition left politics in a way which makes more room for civil society and the participation of citizens in the solution of social problems.  Ways should be found to engage people…"

In a sense, Kennedy's call is for a society that has at its heart citizen involvement.  It is a call for the public space to be re-occupied by the people and not only by politicians and technocrats.

Kennedy speaks here specifically about her own country, Britain, but as the effects of globalisation are felt, so increasingly citizens are being left out of key policy debates in the name of efficiency.

South Africa has often fallen victim to the approach of the rationality of the markets and technocracy as a way of dealing with the myriad challenges of post-apartheid society.  The unintended consequences of this has often been that citizens, in particular the poor, find themselves excluded from the heart of debates about the future.

As we seek to build a city that can be owned and reclaimed by all its citizens, the way we make decisions will be axiomatic.  Too often citizens appear as spectators in the decision-making processes that affect their daily lives.  On issues of public transport needs, schools, housing and other infrastructure requirements, politicians often act as if they have the monopoly on all wisdom.  Strategic leadership means involving real people.

Building a sustainable future will require leadership with integrity, political acuity and vision.  However, given the complexity of this city and particularly its social cohesion deficits, it will take more than one individual to solve them.

As Njabulo Ndebele argues so eloquently elsewhere, South Africa is at a point in its history where it once again needs "counter-intuitive leadership" by which he means leadership that is inclusive of citizens, creative and envisages precisely the kind of re-positioning of politics which Kennedy argues for.

If citizens are to be at the centre of debate about the future leadership and the values which inform our society, it challenges our conventional view of democracy from one that is state-centred to one that views citizens not merely as consumers but rather co-creators with the state of a better society.

It is clear that any type of leadership for the future will need to be marked by its inclusivity and recognition of the fact that engaged citizens help make better cities.

And with the re-engagement of citizens comes a re-positioning of the political that takes us beyond technocracy and, more importantly, beyond an individual and his or her political party.

The question of leadership applies not only to political leadership and citizen leadership but also business.  A broad definition of leadership demands that we include business as well and that means business leadership that goes beyond corporate social responsibility.

How can business link with communities and the city to assist in creating a sustainable future for Cape Town which is about more than "the bottom line"?

Already some interesting examples have arisen.  Accelerate Cape Town is one such initiative that aims to think about Cape Town in a broader, international context while at the same time recognising the challenges of this society.  The initiative is that of forward-thinking business.  The city needs more of such cross-cutting initiatives.

The challenge for Accelerate Cape Town will be working not only with the city's political leadership but also forging links with citizens who will need to buy into the idea of a city that works to ensure a sustainable future for us all.

The life of a city ebbs and flows.  Apartheid has made those ebbs and flows more dramatic than they needed to have been.  As with the rest of South Africa though, post-apartheid South Africa has given every province, city, town and community a second chance at reclaiming our cities and public spaces.  This will take our collective leadership and efforts.

2010 can be the catalyst for a new way of doing things but it will need collective leadership and a Herculean effort.  Certainly, the people of these parts will rise to the occasion.

Judith February is head of Idasa's Political Information and Monitoring Service (PIMS) {jcomments on}