Photography by:
  • Amanda van der Walt

Governing the GCR

The ‘Gauteng City-Region’ is both an actually existing place, holding more than a quarter of South Africa’s population and a third of its economy, as well as a political project for better government and governance in this all-important part of the country.

Research in this theme focuses on two dimensions of government and governance in the GCR. The first relates to the macro-scale concerns of how to build more integrated and coordinated city-region governance, and improved associative governance with the private sector, civil society and communities. The second focuses on more micro-scale issues and uses an ‘ethnography of the state’ lens to study governing practices, processes and systems in the city-region.

The first dimension starts from the premise that realising a more coherent and integrated city-region is an urgent, but also elusive, goal. The foundational idea behind the GCR was that ‘we need to cooperate more internally to compete better externally’. Hence, building a city-region is fundamentally about getting the sometimes fragmented architecture of government – whose different parts are responsible for different areas and functions – to cohere around agreed development plans. This vein of research draws on, and contributes to, extensive literature on ‘territorial’, ‘multi-level’ and ‘adaptive’ governance, especially in the field of regional studies. A dynamic city-region also depends on the ability of government to forge productive partnerships with a range of other public, private and civil society organisations, as well as on more positive relations between government and communities. This last issue is becoming ever more pressing. Evidence from GCRO’s Quality of Life Survey (QoL) suggests that something urgently needs to be done to re-embed government in communities, and to re-engage government and residents who, in spite of high levels of satisfaction with some services, may be losing faith in government itself.

The second dimension digs deeper into the administrative forms and systems that might either facilitate or hinder a better governed GCR, by considering the often invisible and mundane practices and processes by which government defines its objects and organises itself in relation to its mandate. This research takes inspiration from a methodological revolution spreading across the social sciences, of a new appreciation for deep-level qualitative research. There has been a profound realization that people occupying positions in institutional settings have a ‘way of life’ defined by formal and informal norms, rules, practices, and orientations. In other words institutions have ‘cultures’, and in order to understand government or influence its workings, a nuanced analysis of its institutional culture is essential. This programme of research therefore seeks to deepen insight into the rationalities of government and governance in the city-region, in the process also contributing to methodological concerns about how best to study the state.

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