Photography by:
  • Lesedi Mogale & Lelani Du Preez

Understanding the objective of post apartheid urban mixing

As many analyses of South African cities have argued, the inequities of apartheid directly were manifest in and are caused by, the morphology of the apartheid city. The apartheid city was characterized by separation of ‘races’, prioritised investment in white areas, under-investment in black areas, and the burdens of accessing economic and other opportunities in the city being placed disproportionately on poorer people (Davies 1981). It follows, for many policy makers, that the endurance of the apartheid urban form in the post-apartheid period obstructs the achievement of greater social justice.

Aside from the inherited legacy which retains much of the social and physical shape of the apartheid city in townships and suburbs, post-apartheid processes have extended the kinds of spatial patterns that were characteristic of the past. Gated communities for example have created new middle class residential spaces on the periphery of former white suburbs. Meanwhile low cost housing has occurred on cheap peripheral land in a way that extends township-like space.

There have of course been important changes to the apartheid urban form. Cities have both densified and spread. The transformation of inner city residential spaces such as Hillbrow and Yeoville have been wholesale. Informal residential spaces have inserted themselves into available areas against the intentions of planners. Meanwhile some former white middle class residential areas have deracialised as a black middle class as diffused into them. These changes are not driven by policy directly but are ‘organic’ changes that have to be managed by policy.

There have been proactive policies too. The creation of single tax bases across large municipalities allows for the possibility of cross subsidization much more than would be possible in balkanized local government forms typical of apartheid, or as occur in the US today for instance. Some policies do attempt to adjust the shape of settlement. Some municipalities have relaxed minimum property size regulations to enable densification. One of the motivations behind Johannesburg's 'Corridors of Freedom’ project break up old urban patterns ‘re-stitching the city to create a new future’.

The motivations for this kind of policy intervention are to enable residents to live closer to work, school and so on and to be able to move around the city more easily. They also invoke environmental sustainability. There are also more redemptive overtones, such as the intention to have ‘Rich and poor, black and white living side by side’ (Joburg, No date).

There are empirical questions provoked by this set of initiatives and challenges. How do policy makers and users of urban spaces understand the ‘undoing’ of the apartheid city? What are the policy tools available to help change urban morphology? What are the policy debates that feed into these choices? How do middle class and elite populations of the city interpret these efforts to create more equitable city?

These questions will be investigated during a multiyear study.


The GCRO sends out regular news to update subscribers on our research and events.