Photography by:
  • Machona James Ragedi, Clive Hassall, Susan Snaddon

Micro-scale segregation and socio-economic sorting in Gauteng

Apartheid was the way in which the white minority government in South Africa controlled access to urban opportunities. It was done by classifying people into race groups and segregating residential areas according to these racial groups. As a result of racially differentiated access to urban opportunities, a strong association between race and income developed over time, in which white areas were wealthy and black African areas were working class. Once statutory segregation regulations were removed in 1991, an important question in urban studies was to what extent, and at what scale, racial desegregation would reshape the post-apartheid urban landscape. This question remains relevant today.

Research has shown that substantial racial-residential desegregation has taken place in some neighbourhoods, while other neighbourhoods remain homogeneous. It is also clear that the affordability of accommodation influences segregation patterns. More affordable housing, in townships, informal settlements, and public housing developments, tends to have low racial diversity. Middle- and upper-class housing tends to be associated with substantial racial desegregation.

This research project analyses racial segregation and socio-economic sorting in Gauteng. It confirms many of the same findings of previous research on post-apartheid segregation and desegregation. In this study, a specific micro-scale analysis is added to the existing knowledge of segregation and socio-economic sorting patterns in Gauteng. A micro-scale representation of segregation is an important lens through which to view progress toward spatial transformation and reveals how factors, like residential expansion, the property market and the character of neighbourhoods, influence racial segregation and socio-economic sorting.

This research includes three points of inquiry with regard to racial-residential segregation and socio-economic sorting in Gauteng.

The first considers the relationship between racial diversity and residential expansion. Between 1990 and 2020, the residential footprint of Gauteng increased by roughly 905 km2. The study investigated whether residential growth contributes to desegregation or perpetuates segregation. The analysis shows that areas of residential expansion tend to reproduce the racial composition of the areas from which they expanded. However, public housing programmes and inclusionary housing policies hold significant potential for desegregation at multiple scales.

The second inquiry of this study analyses the extent to which racial mixing contributes to class mixing and income equality in desegregated neighbourhoods. In South African cities, middle class neighbourhoods have been celebrated for becoming racially integrated. However, behind this undoubtedly important transformation this study finds a largely unrecognised feature: in racially mixed wards, the mean household income of the white residents is significantly higher than the mean household income of black African residents. Income inequality in neighbourhoods therefore remains high, despite considerable racial desegregation.

The third inquiry in this publication is concerned with patterns of micro-scale socio-economic sorting in desegregated neighbourhoods, and specifically how this is associated with the housing characteristics that shape neighbourhoods. The analysis is able to illustrate how the affordability of housing and the social character of neighbourhoods influences socio-economic sorting.

Together, the three inquiries highlight continued segregation, but also nuances in the nature of desegregation in the Gauteng province at various scales – macro- and micro-scales. Macro-scale analysis in Gauteng shows that racial-residential segregation continues to happen in and around townships and is associated with low-cost housing developments. Desegregation is evident in the central suburban areas and associated with mostly middle to high income housing. Although significant racial-residential desegregation has taken place in former whites-only neighbourhoods, the association between space and class in Gauteng has not changed significantly and spatial transformation is slow. The local-level, data-driven analysis reveals that desegregation is uneven in some neighbourhoods and the socio-economic sorting happens based on the character (including quality, quantity, and affordability) of the available housing stock.

The research argues that a multi-scalar view of segregation and socio-economic sorting is essential to understand urban form and function. Micro-scale analysis reveals both barriers and opportunities for future spatial transformation. Residential expansion, whether by the public or private sectors, should be strategically driven with diversified housing at different affordability levels, while neighbourhood-level developments should foster socio-economic inclusion. In this way, desegregation and socio-economic integration is facilitated at different geographic scales and more equitable access to opportunities in the city is enabled.



Christian Hamann (April 2023). ‘An analysis of micro-scale social mixing in Gauteng', Faces of the City Seminar Series, University of the Witwatersrand, 18 April 2023.

Last updated: 13 December 2023.


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