Urbanisation and development in South Africa: economic imperatives, spatial distortions and strategic responses
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This paper outlines the experience of urbanisation in South Africa, which is now one of the most populous and urbanised countries in Africa. For over a century, urbanisation has been a source of controversy posing dilemmas for successive governments and resulting in wide-ranging interventions to control it in various ways. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, a distinctive form of racially segregated urban development was put in place, reflecting the needs of the economy for cheap migrant labour to support rapid industrialisation, but political nervousness about permanent rural-to-urban migration. After the Second World War, political considerations dominated and increasingly draconian controls were imposed to suppress black urbanisation in order to sustain white lifestyles and political domination. Their main effect was to fracture the physical form of cities and disrupt the lives of black residents through forcing them to the periphery. With the demise of apartheid, these repressive controls have been withdrawn, causing a
recovery in the rate of urbanisation. The post-1994 government has sought to be even-handed in its treatment of cities, towns and rural areas, with no explicit policy either to support or to discourage migration because of its sensitivity and perceived negative effects on both sending and receiving areas. This neutral stance has avoided the serious social damage of the past, but
relatively little has been done positively to overcome the legacy of segregation within urban areas. Similarly, the pursuit of economic investment in cities is not as vigorous as in many other countries. Ambiguity towards urbanisation also translates into a reactive, indifferent and sometimes hostile approach towards informal settlements and backyard shacks. In short, there is no consistent national policy for planning and managing the present and significant process of urbanisation.