The South African urban system
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South Africa is often considered an unusual and extreme case in geography. One difficulty is whether to label this a developing country (like its neighbouring countries), a former colony (like the United States and Australia) or an emerging economy (like the BRICS group), because of its highly diverse and unevenly developed character. South Africa also bears a strong imprint of its colonial and apartheid history, with long-lasting, path-dependent effects. This special status alludes to the complex territorial trends that characterise the country. The heterogeneous settlement dynamics and differentiated social, economic and political systems have exerted a powerful influence over urbanisation trends. The chapter explores whether these trends are distinctive compared with other countries and what specific socio-economic challenges are faced in the urban areas.