Uneven spaces: core and periphery in the Gauteng City-Region

Peripheral areas of the Gauteng City-Region – like small towns on the edge, large peri-urban and commercial farming areas, sprawling dormitory townships, huge swathes of displaced urbanisation in ex-Bantustans, and remote industrial and mining areas – are all poorly understood. Yet there is evidence that many of these areas are undergoing rapid change, with profound implications for many current policy debates including what to do about inequitable economic growth patterns, how to manage ongoing population movements in the post-apartheid period, where best to locate large public housing schemes, and so on.

Uneven spaces: Core and periphery in the Gauteng City-Region, GCRO’s sixth research report, comes from a clear recognition that despite the comparative wealth of Gauteng and its role in driving the national economy there are places of relative ‘peripherality’ in the GCR that require attention. The report is also a response to a strong focus in the existing literature on the physical and economic core of the province, the City of Johannesburg in particular. By contrast there is a relative paucity of analysis on less central parts of the city-region.

The work is the result of a research partnership between the GCRO and the South African Research Chair in Spatial Analysis and City Planning (SA&CP), in the School of Architecture and Planning at Wits University. GCRO’s Dr Sally Peberdy wrote the first part of the report entitled ‘Uneven development – core and periphery in Gauteng’. Prof Philip Harrison and Yasmeen Dinath from SA&CP compiled the second part, ‘Gauteng – on the edge’. Both parts, albeit through different modes, consider transitions in the social- and space-economies of outlying places.

The first part investigates the dynamics of peripheral areas in Gauteng through the lens of theories of uneven development. Showcasing a wealth of data and maps generated from the Census and GCRO’s own Quality of Life surveys, it analyses the multiple ways that spaces may be peripheral. These include unequal access to housing and services; the spread of income, household assets and employment opportunities; variations in perceived quality of life; and so on. The analysis builds from an initial binary delineation of parts of Gauteng as either ‘core’ or ‘periphery. It then progressively nuances our understanding by showing that notions of core and periphery are relational, that processes of change across what may be counted as core or periphery are often indeterminate and contradictory, and that there are often ‘peripheral’ areas in the heart of the GCR, and ‘core’ features in areas conventionally regarded as on the margin. This section concludes with thoughts on the role of government in creating, sustaining and ameliorating multiple forms of peripherality,

The second part of the report asks the question ‘what is happening along the geographic edge of the GCR?’, and seeks to answer this both through the lens of scholarship on edge cities, peri-metropolitan areas, and agglomeration, as well as through a number of in-depth case studies in six types of peripheral areas:

  1. Areas with extractive economies (Carletonville);
    2. Industrialising ex-mining areas (Nigel-Heidelberg);
    3. Areas with state-implanted industry (The Vaal, including Vereeniging, Vanderbijlpark and Sasolburg);
    4. Decentralised growth points (Babelegi);
    5. Agricultural service centres (Bronkhorstspruit); and
    6, Recreational hubs (Hartbeespoort).

Through its exhaustive narrative accounts of the development of specific places on the edge of the GCR, this section of the report compellingly highlights the importance of history and timing, and asks us to consider how urban development drives economic development and vice versa.

Although ‘core’ and ‘periphery’ are artificial constructs, these terms gesture at very real spaces of uneven growth and development. The two parts of this report, different but complementary, considerably deepen our understanding of what is going on in parts of the city-region that are less well researched, and help focus the attention of policy-makers concerned with the causes and effects of – as well as possible solutions to – spatially uneven development outcomes.


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