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Landscapes of peripheral and displaced urbanisms

Much current policy oriented spatial research is single-issue driven, with the research question set by a policy problem in need of resolution – the affordability or poor location of housing; what sustainable human settlements are all about; how to activate transit oriented development; and so on. This research is important and valuable. But very often it is normatively driven rather than dispassionate and objective, and it does not carefully enough examine actual spaces and spatial processes through a multidisciplinary perspective. This project moves from the premise that a ‘landscape’ study approach – involving both careful empirical analysis of specific places over an extended period, as well as new theorizing of the urban processes shaping them – may better elucidate the global and generalisable and the local and idiosyncratic forces (including government policy) producing this region’s settlement forms.


Photo: Phola, Mpumalganga along the Moloto Road (R573).

This longer term project studies the northern, north-east and north-western GCR’s ‘zones of displaced urbanisms’ that are homes to hundreds of thousands of people. Some such areas are without discernible economic centres. This focus in the GCR’s displaced and peripheral areas is important because the idea of an extended city-region, spanning across the borders of the Gauteng province, is often mentioned, and the need to situate the trends and dynamics shaping Gauteng within its wider frame – the platinum belt in the west, the coal and energy economies of the east and south – is frequently highlighted. However to date GCRO has done very little sustained and in-depth research into the areas adjoining Gauteng proper. The ex-bantustan and homeland areas in and adjoining Gauteng are a significant and generally under-studied feature of the region. There are arguably few major metropolitan regions in the world that have such a periphery, with city-sized populations forced by past policies into inefficiently located, not-quite-urban and not-quite-rural settlement forms. We know very little about how these areas are changing. Do long term commuting patterns still sustain them? Are they ageing and depopulating over time? Are they benefiting from investments of migrant worker wages? Are any new local economies emerging over time? What are the government's plans for them, and how do such plans articulate with the long-term strategies (spatial and otherwise) being generated by Gauteng? Could it be that, rather than deteriorating further into despair, and rather than urbanising to resemble the modernist parts of the city-region, such places are instead forming into socio-spatial, political and economic spaces with dynamics that are common with, unique and divergent from one another and the mainstream parts of the city-region?

Video: KwaMhlanga Crossroads, Mpumalanga, located at the intersection of roads R573 and R568.

The first year of work (2017) was preliminary. It involved the collection and review of relevant work ranging from the Urban Foundation’s first study in the late 1980s on ‘displaced urbanisation’, to recent Moloto Corridor feasibility studies for possible major rail infrastructure investment, also exploring thinking about such works through the idea of ‘displaced urbanisms’ in order to capture their agency. This scoping exercise also involved site visits in the outer reaches of the GCR, specifically parts of the northern and north-eastern Tshwane, the Moloto Road settlements, and Rustenburg. The end of 2017 and the beginning of 2018 have seen in-depth interviews conducted in all these areas. The quantitative study using the Quality of Life survey V (2017/18) instrument was completed in June 2019. The project team has grown to include Sally Peberdy, a former GCRO Senior Researcher, Avhatakali Sithagu of the School of Architecture and Planning, and one other participant from academia.


Map of the Month

Mosiane, N., Sibisi, R. & Katumba, S. (2018). ’Commutes through Mabopane Station’, Map of the Month, July 2018.


Ngaka Mosiane (January 2019) ‘Governing the periphery of the Gauteng City-Region’, the Urban Annual Research Conference (City and the Region) at the Indian Institute for Human Settlements, 10-12 January 2019.

Ngaka Mosiane (October 2018) ‘Mobility, Displaced urbanisms, and the Remaking of Tshwane, South Africa’. Spaces and Flows Conference, Heidelberg University, Germany, 24-26 October 2018.

Ngaka Mosiane (August 2017) ‘Synecdochic governance of the Gauteng City-Region periphery’. Faces of the City Seminar, Wits. 29 August 2017.

Ngaka Mosiane and Mamokete Matjomane (June 2017) 'The lives, sights and sounds of the Gauteng City Region Periphery'. Brown bag Seminar. GCRO offices. 28 June 2017.

Ngaka Mosiane (July 2017) 'Livelihoods, and Body, and City Space'. Stellenbosch Institute for Advanced Studies and African Centre for Cities conference on Refractions of the National, the Popular, and the Global in African cities, University of Stellenbosch. 31 July - 1 August 2017.

Last updated: 9 July 2019


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