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The Oxford Handbook of the South African Economy

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30 Urbanization, Agglomeration, and Economic Development in South Africa

Ivan Turok holds the DSI/NRF South African research chair in city-region economies at Free State University. He is also a distinguished research fellow at the HSRC and honorary professor at Glasgow University. He is former editor-in-chief of Regional Studies , and a current editor of Area Development and Policy and Development Southern Africa . He chaired Durban’s City Planning Commission, and has a PhD in economics from Reading University, United Kingdom. He is occasional advisor to the United Nations, OECD, African Development Bank, UNECA, and several governments. He contributed to South Africa’s Integrated Urban Development Framework and the National Development Plan.

  • Published: 08 December 2021
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This chapter reviews the arguments and evidence for the existence of a positive relationship between urbanization and economic development in South Africa. It identifies the main tenets of agglomeration theory, which stresses the importance of city size, density, and connectivity. These ideas are applied to fundamental features of urban development, namely the triangular relationship between the location of firms, households, and transport systems. The urban premium is strengthened by government investment in urban infrastructure and supportive institutions. Contemporary South African cities are scarred by the disjointed urban structure they inherited, which undermines productivity and inclusion. Government policies towards housing, land, and transport have done little to improve the morphology of cities and harness urbanization for widely shared prosperity.

30.1 Introduction

Around the world, economists of various persuasions have been developing a deeper understanding of the importance of geography for economic growth and development ( Porter 2003 ; Krugman 2011 ; Glaeser 2011 ; Collier and Venables 2017 ). An initial interest in transport costs has broadened into the positive effects of spatial concentration on productivity and innovation. Proximity between firms and households in cities is believed to generate economies of scale and foster interactions which promote learning, improve efficiency, stimulate enterprise, and raise investment returns.

Although disentangling cause–effect relationships is difficult within these ‘agglomeration economies’, there is increasing empirical endorsement, including from new digital and satellite data available at granular resolutions ( Duranton and Puga 2020 ; Jones et al. 2020 ). This body of knowledge also indicates that the process of urbanization is generally beneficial for drawing dispersed populations and resources closer together, creating more productive jobs, and lifting people out of poverty ( Spence et al. 2009 ; OECD/EC 2020). It suggests that dense, compact forms of urban development are most advantageous, along with transport and digital connectivity within and between cities ( Lall et al. 2017 ; Ahlfeldt and Pietrostefani 2019 ).

Belief in the significance of agglomeration economies has begun to influence national economic policies and infrastructure plans ( Pike et al. 2017 ). There is a growing sense that cities need to be treated as distinct economic units because this is where the wealth of nations is increasingly created ( Glaeser and Joshi-Ghani 2015 ). Tackling the congestion, higher costs, pollution, and other negative externalities in burgeoning cities can therefore have disproportionate benefits for national prosperity. The uplift in land and property values arising from well-configured urban development can also generate valuable additional tax revenues for reinvestment in essential infrastructure to render the whole process cumulative and self-sustaining ( Ingram and Hong 2012 ).

These propositions have been embraced by international organizations such as the United Nations (2020) , OECD (2014, 2018), and World Bank (2009, 2013). They have endorsed a new emphasis on cities in global thinking on sustainable development, both to harness the progressive potential of rapid urbanization underway across Africa and Asia, and to mitigate the risks that it will prove dysfunctional and degrade the environment ( Turok and McGranahan 2013 ; United Nations 2016 ). Successful outcomes are believed to depend on governments establishing capable institutions to guide the process because market mechanisms cannot organize urban development effectively or provide sufficient public goods and services to leave no one behind ( Collier and Venables 2015 ; Scott and Storper 2015 ).

Economists in South Africa have shown limited interest in the spatial economy, or in the contribution cities make to development. With some exceptions, political elites and economic policymakers have also been ambivalent with the result that building better cities is not viewed as an economic priority (SACN 2016; Duminy et al. 2020 ). There is no common vision or shared objectives across government towards urban development, nor even an agreed approach towards using vacant state-owned urban land effectively. Instead of integrative place-based policies, the government has emphasized spatially blind measures, such as industrial sector masterplans and universal access to public services and housing. The latter are intended to redress historic injustices through a rights-based framework that is largely indifferent to geography.

Hesitancy about urbanization neglects the global experience of cities as dynamic production systems that create opportunities to foster all-round progress. Agglomeration principles are also relevant to the structural constraints to growth and inclusion arising from South Africa’s large territory and the fractured form of its cities and towns ( National Treasury 2018 ). The separation between places of work (or production) and living (or social reproduction) hampers economic and social progress in many situations, especially dormitory townships and the former homelands ( Todes and Turok 2018 ; World Bank 2018 ). It renders urban labour markets less efficient, marginalizes poor black communities, and adds to the costs of transport for commuters and service delivery for taxpayers (SACN 2016; National Treasury 2018 ). There is little sign that these spatial scars of apartheid are disappearing, either through spontaneous economic processes or through government spatial plans that repeatedly espouse urban integration and spatial transformation ( Gardner 2018 ; Turok 2018 ; McKenna 2020 ).

The purpose of this chapter is to assess the contribution of cities to economic development in South Africa. It also examines distinctive features of the country’s urban trajectory. The discussion challenges some aspects of agglomeration theory and some attitudes towards urbanization. It argues that the economic benefits of cities are not automatic but instead depend on a conducive context. The way urban growth is shaped and supported through investment in public infrastructure and inclusive institutions is particularly important. The chapter argues that South Africa’s spatial divides impede inclusive growth, and that more could be done about urban consolidation.

The structure is as follows. Section 30.2 sets the context with a brief history of the country’s urban growth. The rest of the chapter is organized around three fundamental features of the urban morphology, namely the triangular relationship between the location of firms, households, and the transport system. Section 30.3 discusses how agglomeration affects the performance of firms and industries. Section 30.4 considers how households are accommodated in expanding cities. Section 30.5 examines how the transport system connects urban areas. Section 30.6 concludes.

30.2 South Africa’s History of Urbanization and Urban Policy

South Africa emerged as a resource-based economy in the nineteenth century, with a particular settlement pattern shaped by that reality. Urbanization was dominated for many decades by the need for cheap migrant labour to mine gold, diamonds, and other minerals, which meant that coercion was a long-standing feature ( Wilson 1972 ). The rural–urban transition also differed from the pattern in many other countries where structural transformation involved rising agricultural productivity and even more productive urban industrialization. This parallel process fuelled a generalized increase in living standards and widespread investment in infrastructure. Agriculture never developed to its full potential in South Africa, and the same is arguably true about manufacturing.

As the twentieth century progressed, many mining towns developed complementary manufacturing functions, including engineering, steel, and chemicals. Many of these were established by the largest mining corporations in order to control their intermediate inputs and profit from emerging opportunities, even branching into various financial services ( Harrison and Zack 2012 ). These conglomerates benefited from significant internal economies of scale and scope, while booming cities elsewhere in the world were characterized more by external economies associated with independent firms driving up productivity through competition ( Jacobs 1984 ; Glaeser 2011 ). A pattern of concentrated ownership and oligopoly was established in South Africa which became an enduring feature of many economic sectors ( Fine and Rustomjee 1996 ).

South Africa’s fastest growing economic centres emerged in and around Gauteng, which soon became the country’s leading metropolitan region ( Harrison and Zack 2012 ). Coastal towns also prospered by functioning as international entrepÔts and regional service centres ( Turok 2014 ). They enabled the export of minerals from the interior, allowed essential inputs to be imported, and coordinated the processing of agricultural goods for domestic consumption and export. Therefore, geographical advantages conferred by natural features were uppermost in fashioning South Africa’s spatial economy for many decades. Natural resources remain important in determining whether many towns grow or decline (especially those specializing in mining and tourism), although the economics of agglomeration are more important in moulding the major cities. An essential message is that the country’s wealth has been largely created in cities and towns.

Colonial and apartheid governments played instrumental roles in urban development, typically to enforce racial separation and probably hindering economic dynamism in the process. They were responding out of fear to accelerating urbanization during the first half of the twentieth century, caused by the mining boom and industrialization. Less than a fifth of the country’s population (18 per cent) lived in urban areas in 1911, which doubled to 35 per cent in 1951 ( Turok 2014 ). Ideological efforts to suppress black urbanization intensified between the 1950s and 1980s ( World Bank 2018 ; Duminy et al. 2020 ). This conflicted with the interests of the thriving urban economy, which required a more stable, skilled, and enlarged workforce over time. The stringent restrictions on permanent urban residence gave rise to a detrimental form of (circular) migration between rural and urban areas ( Bank et al. 2020 ). Meanwhile, callous controls on where racial groups could live within cities created a fractured urban structure with poor black communities removed to sterile townships on the periphery. Local government was weak, fragmented along racial lines, and mainly responsible for basic infrastructure services and regulating the development of land.

30.2.1 Urbanization Post-apartheid

During the transition from apartheid the rate of urbanization increased following the removal of migration controls. This sealed the country’s position as one of the most urbanized on the continent, with two-thirds of the total population now living in urban areas (UNDESA 2018). Figure 30.1 shows the increasing importance of large cities and the relative decline of rural areas. This trajectory mirrors global trends, but it has not been embraced by decision-makers post-apartheid ( Turok et al. 2021a ). In the absence of a national policy to prepare for urban growth, municipalities have battled to keep pace with the demands for public services and shelter, resulting in swelling informal settlements and escalating social protests ( Scheba and Turok 2020 ). Such events focus public attention on the downsides of urbanization, while the less visible benefits are overlooked. Many land occupations occur on hazardous sites and perpetuate the haphazard structure of cities. Little has been done to plan ahead for urbanization by making serviced land available in advance of human settlement (SACN 2014; Turok 2016a ; Gardner 2018 ).

30.2.2 Urban Policies and Politics

Local government consolidation during the 1990s signalled a promising future, as the eight largest cities were equipped with more robust administrations than the previous patchwork. Single-tier metropolitan authorities were given wide territorial boundaries to reflect their functional urban areas (including surrounding commuting zones) and to prevent leapfrog development into neighbouring localities. The metros incorporated the outlying townships and affluent suburbs to permit effective redistribution, with vital powers to raise property taxes for reinvestment in public services. They were required to prepare Integrated Development Plans to cover the five-year electoral cycle, in conjunction with other spheres of government to ensure alignment of plans and budgets. Metro responsibilities were broader than their predecessors, although housing and public transport were assigned to the provinces (SACN 2014). Subsequent problems have stemmed more from harmful political practices and institutional cultures than from deficient structures. Undue political interference, unstable leadership, and excessive central regulation have impaired the developmental agenda originally envisaged, aggravated by inappropriate senior appointments, mismanagement, and a loss of specialist expertise ( Palmer et al. 2017 ; van Ryneveld 2018 ; Olver 2020 ; World Bank 2018 ).

South Africa’s population distribution, 1975–2030

Note : Urban centres are cities with over fifty thousand inhabitants in contiguous dense areas; urban clusters are towns with over five thousand inhabitants in contiguous semi-dense areas; rural areas consist mostly of low-density areas.

Many townships have benefited from improved public services, although the fundamental course of urban development continues to bear a strong imprint of the apartheid past, reflecting inertia in the built environment and the durability of fixed assets. Deep inequalities in labour market earnings and stark neighbourhood contrasts also make it practically difficult to reshape settlement patterns and integrate diverse communities. Cities continue to be encumbered by low residential densities in well-located areas, poor transport systems, and high mobility costs (SACN 2016; National Treasury 2018 ; World Bank 2018 ). Hierarchical, command-and-control attitudes, and bureaucratic behaviours within government constitute another form of path dependency. Top-down, sectoral policies take precedence over cross-cutting spatial plans and the building of stronger relationships with civil-society organizations, which impedes trust and accountability ( Todes and Turok 2018 ; Duminy et al. 2020 ; McKenna 2020 ). This, in turn, hampers the metros’ ability to respond to community concerns and initiatives, including engaging with informal activities. The strength of functional silos within government also inhibits the metros’ capacity to coordinate infrastructure investments and to plan in an integrated way according to the unique economic assets and priorities of each city.

30.2.3 Urban–Rural Tensions

An intangible legacy of the past is the ambivalent attitude of many decision-makers towards urbanization, and perhaps even a fear of the city ( Turok et al. 2021a ). The political economy of urban areas is inevitably more complicated and contested than rural areas because of the diverse interests involved. Meanwhile, the provinces have become more powerful than envisaged in the Constitution, as the main political parties have adopted federal structures along provincial lines. The ruling party originally envisaged strong metros to expedite socio-economic development and democratic accountability, but provincial leaders have tended to usurp their authority. The rural provinces have acquired disproportionate influence through their superior ability to mobilize party membership and popular votes, reflecting the widespread dependence of jobs and livelihoods on state patronage in these regions ( van Ryneveld 2020 ). A risky and unhealthy misalignment has arisen between the locus of power within the party and the location of the economy in the big cities. It has aggravated the underlying contradiction at the heart of government between the desire of politicians to spend public resources (preferably on popular necessities) and the need to help generate those resources through supporting (and then taxing) productive activities.

During the Zuma era there was very little backing for cities as strategic economic units worthy of special attention ( Duminy et al. 2020 ). The narrative of an urban–rural divide prevailed, highlighting countryside hardships. The emphasis on rural areas in land reform policy (covering redistribution, restitution, and tenure security) is a good example, ignoring the centrality of urban land reform to building more prosperous and equitable cities (PAPLRA 2019). Persistent equivocation over urbanization is reflected in sparse economic data at the city level, and meagre state funding for systematic or sustained urban research. Provincial economic data are more comprehensive, yet these are mostly administrative units rather than functional areas. The national statistics agency does not even have a robust definition of urban areas; it continues to use an old administrative categorization. Data deficiencies help to explain the limited awareness of spatial dynamics among the country’s economists, despite flourishing interest elsewhere in the world. One exception is the Cities Support Programme (CSP) located within the National Treasury. Since 2012, the CSP has sought to improve metro capabilities to carve out their own agendas by introducing new skills, knowledge, and decision-making systems. These encourage city plans and developments that are more integrated, inclusive, and resource efficient ( Turok 2016a ; Duminy et al. 2020 ). There are some positive initiatives in the pipeline, although few changes on the ground as yet.

30.3 Spatial Concentration and the Performance of Firms

30.3.1 theoretical advantages of agglomeration.

There is a substantial body of knowledge on the economic advantages of agglomeration stretching back to Alfred Marshall. It has grown to encompass multiple perspectives rather than constituting a singular theoretical framework. One interpretation stems from the so-called New Economic Geography (NEG) ( Krugman 2011 ) and another from established economic geography (e.g. Storper 2011 ). The essential ideas in these and other approaches proceed as follows. Firms and workers that depend on each other for inputs and outputs cluster together for ease of access. They interact in many different ways, creating a dynamic system with many synergies and cumulative effects ( Glaeser 2011 ; Storper 2013 ). Dense networked cities promote entrepreneurship, creativity, business dynamism, knowledge spillovers, larger markets, and faster growth ( Jacobs 1984 ; Glaeser and Xiong 2017 ). Firms specialize in particular products or tasks, which amplifies their capabilities and productivity. Many cities also benefit from specializing in particular functions (‘localization economies’) and exchanging outputs with other places ( Lall et al. 2017 ; Iammarino et al. 2019 ). ‘Tradable’ goods and services are crucial because their growth is not constrained by local demand and they often generate sizeable multiplier effects.

NEG agglomeration theory emphasizes increasing returns to scale as the main causal mechanism. This gives metropolitan areas exceptional advantages over smaller cities (World Bank 2009). Major cities offer businesses deep labour pools, a large choice of suppliers and customers, and extensive professional services and communications infrastructure. This suits the biggest firms and generates the greatest returns on public and private investment. Researchers have successfully quantified these benefits using econometric techniques, finding that doubling the city size raises productivity by between 2 and 5 per cent ( Melo et al. 2009 ; Graham and Gibbons 2019 ). Furthermore, the benefits of proximity to the main hubs of economic activity decay rapidly with distance, which suggests that low density sprawl undermines economic vitality by lengthening commuting times and limiting business interactions ( Rice et al. 2006 ).

NEG theory postulates that national living standards benefit from concentrating activity in the largest cities and that wider disparities with other regions are the price to pay for these productivity gains ( Glaeser 2011 ). Governments should not try to diffuse activity to smaller cities and towns by investing in place-based policies (World Bank 2009). Agglomeration economies should provide sufficient benefits for aggregate growth and national income to compensate places left behind and leave everyone better off. The theory also proposes that people be encouraged to migrate from poorer regions to the large cities. In other words, the solution to geographical inequalities is regional integration and factor mobility (World Bank 2009). Improved transport links will diminish the spatial frictions of distance and division, reduce the surplus rural population, and fuel the metropolitan growth machine.

More expansive perspectives challenge these ideas as reductionist and oversimplified, especially the argument that bigger is necessarily better ( Iammarino et al. 2019 ; Sunley et al. 2020 ). NEG portrays agglomeration economies as having universal applicability and an almost law-like quality, regardless of the context. Alternative approaches view agglomeration as a potent force, but neither immutable not deterministic. The prosperity of cities is driven by various factors besides their size and density (including their economic structure and social diversity), implying that second-order cities can also thrive. Social and political institutions are crucial in mediating agglomeration economies—either helping or hindering their realization ( Feldman and Storper 2018 ). For example, there are stronger traditions of business collaboration, information sharing, and mutual learning in some cities than in others ( Storper et al. 2015 ). Countries with a long history of racial division and mistrust are bound to face a greater hindrance in this respect.

Diseconomies of scale cannot be ignored either, such as congestion, overloaded infrastructure, and social discord. Local public institutions can alleviate certain growth pressures through far-sighted spatial planning and active urban management (OECD 2018; Turok 2017 ). The crucial point is that agglomeration processes don’t operate in the same way in different places, because formal policies, rules, and organizing systems differ, along with informal norms and conventions. Political economy frameworks may help to make sense of these dynamics, including whether the plans of city governments are endorsed or undermined by private interests (such as property developers) and by regional and national spheres of government ( Olver 2020 ). The relevance of agglomeration processes to informality is generally neglected in established theories, but also needs to be factored in.

Built-environment institutions are particularly important in countries experiencing rapid urbanization (Collier and Venables 2015 , 2017 ; World Bank 2013 ; Turok 2016b ). They have the potential to perform multiple functions which strengthen agglomeration economies and limit opportunistic rent-seeking, wasted resources, and speculative landholding to create artificial scarcity. Municipalities can signal the city’s future growth trajectory to developers through their land-use plans, zoning schemes, and building regulations. Plans need alignment with government infrastructure investments to give them teeth and credibility. They make possible the efficient configuration of employment nodes, residential areas, and transport connections, which adds enduring value to the occupiers of land by ensuring activities complement each other and avoid erratic development.

City governments perform additional functions in pursuit of this ‘urban premium’ ( Turok 2016c ). Sensitive design and management of the public realm (from educational facilities and transport systems to public open spaces) is important for human interactions to be harmonious, inclusive, and cooperative, rather than estranged, discordant, and exclusionary ( Gieryn 2000 ). Carefully calibrated regulatory procedures reduce the burden of compliance and costly delays in developing and refurbishing buildings—essential for the adaptive reuse of property in dynamic economies ( Turok et al. 2021b ). Many of the benefits of agglomeration are capitalized in land values, so the capacity to understand the incentives and functioning of the property market, and to raise property taxes, is essential to achieve desired outcomes and to fund expanded municipal services. Otherwise much of the value of well-structured cities accrues to property owners, who become unreasonably wealthy ( Collier and Venables 2015 ; Olver 2020 ).

30.3.2 South Africa’s Urban Experience

The paucity of reliable economic data on city-level output, per capita income, and labour productivity obstructs systematic research. Statistical deficiencies also blunt policy responses to the distinct economic problems and potential of the major cities. Estimates suggest that South African cities have generally performed better than towns and rural areas, although not well by international standards. The metros, in particular, make a disproportionate contribution to the national economy. They generate 57 per cent of national output and 50 per cent of all formal and informal employment, with 40 per cent of the country’s population ( National Treasury 2018 ). This differential is reflected in the employment rate. Over 52 per cent of adults in the Gauteng metros have a job (despite high in-migration), 45 per cent in the coastal metros, 43 per cent in the secondary cities, 41 per cent in the commercial farming areas and only 21 per cent in the former homelands ( Turok 2018 ).

South Africa’s major cities have outpaced the rest of the country for some time. The rate of economic growth of Gauteng and Cape Town—the two largest agglomerations—averaged 3.5 per cent between 1993 and 2016, compared with 2.7 per cent nationally ( National Treasury 2018 ). Cities also make a disproportionate contribution to public finances, the main source of which is personal income tax (PIT). The share of national PIT paid by the three relatively urbanized provinces of Gauteng, Western Cape, and KwaZulu-Natal is 75 per cent, with the other six provinces paying the remainder. Gauteng alone pays 46 per cent, with more economic activity, more taxpayers, and more productive, higher-skilled jobs paying higher salaries and taxes ( Turok 2018 ). The presence in Gauteng of government departments and the headquarters of many state-owned enterprises is relevant too. Nearly a third (29 per cent) of Gauteng’s jobs are professional, technical, or managerial, compared with only one-seventh (14 per cent) in the Northern Cape. What’s more, Gauteng residents pay more than twice as much PIT on average as people elsewhere, indicating the higher average earnings and employment levels.

Whether rural residents become better off by moving to cities is crucial for urbanization. Visagie and Turok (2020a) used a unique dataset that tracks the progress of 30,000 individuals over time through repeat surveys. The decision to migrate pays off for most people, contrary to the popular view that migrants are unskilled and can’t compete for jobs, leading to discontent and despair. Two-thirds of rural-to-urban migrants who were poor in 2008 managed to exit poverty by 2014, adding up to approximately 385,000 people nationwide. These people succeeded in finding some kind of job, even if casual and low paid. Their progress was all the more surprising considering the depressed state of the labour market over this period and the low level of social mobility in the country ( Statistics South Africa 2019 ). Using their own initiative to escape poverty by moving to the city has been one of the few opportunities for advancement open to people living in the countryside.

30.3.3 The Experience of Different Industries

The importance of tradable goods and services was outlined earlier. South Africa’s cities have developed distinctive economic capabilities over time that have helped to create jobs and raise incomes. These specializations are poorly understood. Manufacturing has been most important since the contraction in gold mining. The metros have 2.5 times as many manufacturing jobs per resident as the rest of South Africa ( National Treasury 2018 ). The main manufactured exports are motor vehicles, iron and steel, machinery, chemicals, and processed food ( World Bank 2018 ). Compared with many other middle-income countries, South Africa’s exports have under performed for years ( Bhorat et al. 2019 ). Urban infrastructure limitations are partly responsible, including inefficient harbours, port logistics, shortfalls in electricity supply, and the relatively high cost of urban operating environments ( National Treasury 2018 ; World Bank 2018 ).

Lack of international competitiveness is one of the reasons why every major city in South Africa has experienced deindustrialization in recent decades. Local exporters have struggled to expand in external markets and foreign imports have displaced local production, leading to business contractions and closures. Manufacturing was particularly important in the cities of Durban, Ekurhuleni (East Rand), and Port Elizabeth, which is why deindustrialization has hit them hardest, with little diversification into other tradable sectors. The overall level of employment in Durban and Port Elizabeth slumped by 15 per cent between 2008 and 2017, and in Ekurhuleni by nearly 10 per cent (SACN 2016). The other large metros were less badly affected. Total employment in Johannesburg increased by 5 per cent over the same period, Cape Town by 8 per cent and Tshwane (Pretoria) by 12 per cent. This is meagre considering the underlying population growth. The 1995–2008 period was better for South Africa’s cities than the subsequent decade, reflecting the national economic malaise since the Great Recession and the end of the commodities boom (SACN 2016).

Poor manufacturing performance in some other comparable countries has been offset by stronger growth in tradable services, covering finance and insurance, business services, digital technologies, creative industries, tourism, health, and higher education (Hoekman and de Velde 2017; Newfarmer et al. 2019 ). High-productivity services seem to benefit more from agglomeration than manufacturing because of the importance of high-level skills and knowledge spillovers, that is, human interaction in exchanging information and ideas ( Graham and Gibbons 2019 ; Glaeser 2011 ). There has been some growth in most of these sectors in South African cities, albeit more modest than in other countries, suggesting that South Africa has few globally competitive service firms ( Bhorat et al. 2019 ). Export growth has been stronger for traditional services, such as transport and tourism, than for advanced services.

The main source of services growth in Gauteng has been business and financial services, the output of which expanded by a sizeable 7.4 per cent per annum between 1995 and 2017, compared with 3.8 per cent in KwaZulu-Natal, 2 per cent in the Western Cape, and 2 per cent in the Eastern Cape ( Visagie and Turok 2020b ). These jobs are predominantly white collar and less accessible than manufacturing to workers without secondary education. Most of these services have a large non-tradable component, so they probably do not generate the same local spinoffs as manufacturing or mining. The strong growth of financial services has raised broader questions about the phenomenon of financialization and its potential drawbacks for local and national economic development ( Fine and Rustomjee 1996 ; Karwowski et al. 2018 ). The fact remains that the finance sector generates a striking 40 per cent of total corporate income tax in South Africa, so its contribution to public finances, at least, cannot be neglected.

In most cities there has been moderate growth in transport, retail, personal services, private security, and public services. Their productivity is generally rather low and they serve predominantly local markets, so they play little role in spurring broader growth. Recognizing tourism as a tradable sector, the government sought to boost this by hosting the World Cup in 2010. It used the event as a catalyst for investments in public transport, football stadia, and precinct upgrades. There were some benefits to construction and related sectors, but they proved short-lived in the absence of successor events ( Bhorat et al. 2019 ). Insufficient efforts were made to sustain tourism demand, and most of the stadia have become white elephants. Meanwhile individual cities have had some success in promoting business tourism by building international convention centres. Higher education is another sector with export potential. South African cities have reputable universities that could attract more students from the sub-continent.

30.3.4 Towards More Granular Analysis

Recent work has begun to disaggregate the sectoral analysis more systematically to identify specific strengths of each city using location quotients ( Visagie and Turok 2020b ). Johannesburg’s economy has become skewed towards financial services, with nearly twice as many jobs as expected, given its size. Finance generated over thirty thousand additional jobs for the city between 2008 and 2017. Johannesburg is the headquarters of the country’s major banks, insurance companies, and stock exchange. Most are clustered, along with related professional services (legal, accountancy, IT, and management consultancy) in Sandton, South Africa’s premier commercial precinct located in the northern suburbs, with the costliest real estate in the country. The international component of financial services is illustrated by the five main banks having Rand 600 billion worth of assets tied up in other African countries, representing 12 per cent of their total assets ( Thompson and Donnelly 2020 ). Standard Bank and Absa have the biggest footprints on the continent. The former generates about 31 per cent of its earnings from the rest of Africa and has 3.8 million customers there ( Turok and Visagie 2020 )

The telecommunications sector is similar in some respects to finance. Two South African corporations have expanded beyond the domestic market and become important service providers elsewhere on the continent. There are few other South African corporates producing high-value tradable services that have become successful exporters ( Bhorat et al. 2019 ). Fast-growing African cities offer possibilities in sectors such as engineering, real estate, infrastructure, and design. SA companies have proven capabilities in these fields, but seem to have lacked the ambition and/or appropriate strategies to succeed ( Turok and Visagie 2020 ). Global consolidation risks South Africa’s leading business service firms being acquired by foreign multinationals and ending up as outposts in their international networks. It may not be far-fetched to envision a SA government committed to city-building and forming strategic alliances with private-sector and NGO expertise to offer a competitive package of professional urban services to enable other African countries to plan and manage urbanization better.

Sandton’s experience indicates how agglomeration processes can operate at a localized scale. It also illustrates the significance of active and deliberate management of dense urban spaces. Many of Sandton’s corporate offices moved there from downtown Johannesburg during the 1990s. Similar decentralization trends occurred in Pretoria, Durban, and other smaller cities ( Turok et al. 2021b ). The shift was prompted by tumultuous changes during the political transition, spurred by many black people moving from the townships to be closer to jobs. There was a positive aspect to people claiming spaces from which they had been excluded. Yet, the proliferation of street hawkers, minibus taxis, and hustlers provoked an exodus of white businesses to the suburbs. Their loss of confidence in the inner city was compounded by municipal service breakdowns and flouting of bylaws while local government was being reorganized. Civic leaders ignored the inherent value of the central city and failed to respond to the opportunity created by thousands of working people eager to live nearby. Instead, hundreds of buildings were literally abandoned and assets written-off as occupiers and owners fled to suburban nodes, attracted by private-property interests and rival municipalities.

In Durban, for example, the dominant landowner Tongaat Hulett orchestrated a major greenfield commercial precinct in Umhlanga, which has hastened the central business district’s (CBD)’ decline since the 1990s. McKenna (2020) cites a range of other examples of ‘mega-projects’ in Gauteng that are likely to have similar effects. Tighter planning controls around Cape Town and more responsive institutions governing its CBD mostly avoided the same fate and actually created a more attractive and upmarket place to invest, work, live, study, and visit. Nevertheless, the sizeable incentives to bypass or short-circuit the city’s plans and regulations mean that property developers continue to cultivate privileged relationships with political leaders and senior officials in order to get their projects approved ( Olver 2020 ). Where they have succeeded, the results have perpetuated socio-spatial divisions and encroached upon environmentally sensitive areas and public open spaces.

Elsewhere, the level and timing of CBD disinvestment varied from city to city, but signs of renewal emerged within a decade ( Turok et al. 2021b ). Small entrepreneurial developers observed the pent-up demand to live centrally and began to convert run-down buildings into affordable housing and related uses. They targeted novel markets shunned by the major developers, such as lower-paid workers, freelancers, students, and young black professionals (CDE 2020). Some organized street cleaning, security services, and landscaping to tackle the physical degradation and decay in their precincts. These initiatives are bringing renewed energy and investor interest to unexpected places. They illustrate that intense settlement stresses the urban environment and needs careful local oversight, including maintaining the infrastructure and governing the public realm. Government indifference towards the interrelated processes of urbanization and densification is a recipe for social division, instability, and the destruction of value.

30.4 Housing and Urban Density

Although housing is not a tradable sector, it needs to be planned in relation to the labour market and other urban assets. Urbanization is less productive or inclusive if people moving to cities cannot find affordable places to live that are accessible to workplaces. Maximizing workers’ choice of employers and vice versa improves the fit in terms of skills and aptitudes. Labour-market matching is a cornerstone of agglomeration, leading to higher productivity, more job stability, and raised incomes. Dispersed cities with long travel-to-work distances tend to exclude less-skilled job-seekers.

Since housing is the largest user of urban land, its location and density have a major bearing on the city’s morphology. Flexible access to a diverse residential stock (including rental options) is important for people to obtain more suitable accommodation as their family circumstances or earnings change. The property market tends to distribute households across the city according to their ability to buy into neighbourhoods with different quality attributes, and property developers reinforce these segmented and segregated patterns. Without state support, the poor will end up in the least desirable places with restricted access to opportunities. For all these reasons, housing needs to be conceived of as intrinsic to a broader vision of compact, integrated, and variegated settlements, and institutionalized accordingly. These are the kinds of places where social and economic outcomes improve over time ( Jacobs 1984 ).

30.4.1 The Government’s Mass Housing Programme

Urban housing was one of the government’s top priorities in 1994. This commitment stemmed from the previous regime denying black people the right to own property in urban areas and calling a halt to housebuilding in the 1980s in an attempt to curtail urbanization. This resulted in overcrowded township housing and mushrooming squatter settlements in places where people could evade eviction. Consequently, decent housing became a prominent demand for social redress and dignity, and a fundamental right inscribed in the Constitution. Yet, a narrow policy response has limited housing’s contribution to building more functional cities that can ensure economic advancement as well as social justice.

The government’s chosen approach gave it exceptional control over the quantity and type of housing delivered, with a bold target to produce one million ‘RDP’ (Reconstruction and Development Programme) houses within five years. State-led provision avoided the need to involve the private sector and to engage with the wider housing system to achieve broader gains. However, accepting full responsibility for solving the problem let the banks, private developers, and even employers off the hook ( Savage 2014 ). RDP housing was conceived as something separate from other residential property—a form of social compensation instead of the first step on the ladder of an integrated property market. The houses were designed as free-standing starter units, with little funding set aside for the land ( Gardner 2018 ). Qualifying households earning less than R3,500 a month (about half the population) were given these units on condition they did not sell them for eight years. Homeownership was the preoccupation, with little attention to the benefits of renting in urban settings.

High expectations were converted into accelerated delivery from approximately 60,000 units in 1994/95 to about 230,000 five years later. By 2020, over 3 million units had been built altogether, amounting to over 40 per cent of the country’s total housing stock ( McKenna 2020 ). This is a notable achievement, with the sheer scale dominating other formal housebuilding. Households have benefited from living in solid and safer structures with internal services. Yet, housing has been treated essentially as a consumption good, with little consideration for how it might help address the underlying problem families face of economic hardship, and how housing can help to build better cities. The delivery imperative has also been used to justify not devolving housing responsibilities to the metros, where implementing a more holistic approach would be more feasible.

The housing programme has not improved people’s skills or connected them to the labour market. Most projects have been large-scale, monofunctional, and in marginal locations where the whole community is poor and detached from social networks offering useful information about job vacancies (SACN 2014; Turok 2016a ; McKenna 2020 ). The desire to accelerate production meant using large greenfield sites that could be delivered quickly. Many were on the outskirts of existing townships and far from jobs and amenities, thereby entrenching segregation, inequality, and low-density sprawl ( Gardner 2018 ; World Bank 2018 ; CDE 2020). Many households have found themselves trapped in isolated places, unable to sell their homes legally because of the eight-year rule and a 1.1 million backlog of transferring title deeds. Potential buyers also struggle to get bank mortgages in these areas, so resale prices are sluggish and fall further and further behind suburban houses prices ( Savage 2014 ; Marais et al. 2020).

Mass housing has been a classic silo intervention from the centre: restricted in scope, insulated from economic reasoning, and out of sync with city needs. It contradicts the logic of agglomeration, whereby households benefit from the opportunities created by dense economic networks, diverse social connections, and well-connected infrastructure systems. The programme has also been susceptible to fraudulent tendering, corruption, and substandard construction ( GTAC 2016 ; SACN 2014). Olver (2020) tells the alarming story of how weak checks and balances enabled a cabal of regional politicians and building contractors in Port Elizabeth to misappropriate sizeable housing resources over a lengthy period—a pattern repeated elsewhere. These are among the reasons why the rate of delivery has fallen throughout the country since 2010, and the housing backlog has risen ( Gardner 2018 ; McKenna 2020 ). Unfulfilled promises have triggered social unrest, with community protests and land occupations regularly obstructing construction projects.

30.4.2 Backyard Rental Housing

Meanwhile, an alternative approach to low-cost housing has been evolving from the ground up in response to these weaknesses. It involves the adaptive reuse of existing settlements to create higher densities, greater diversity, and more economic opportunities ( Scheba and Turok 2020 ; CDE 2020). Poor homeowners and small-scale developers have been deploying their modest resources to meet the demand for affordable housing by constructing rental units in their backyards ( Gardner 2018 ). This generates a regular income for their families and demonstrates a viable market for such housing in the accessible parts of townships and inner suburbs. Backyard dwellings are also helping to create local jobs and skills during construction and subsequent maintenance. These features help to explain why backyarding has taken over as the fastest growing housing segment, expanding threefold in Gauteng over the last fifteen years ( Hamann et al. 2018 ), and with considerable potential for further growth.

The burgeoning backyard sector is more responsive to the locational needs of households than mass housing. The supply of decent rental units matches the requirements of many young working people who want flexibility and who can’t afford to purchase their own property, or who don’t qualify for free houses (CDE 2020; Scheba and Turok 2020 ). A cohort of emerging developers and homeowners are using their own ingenuity and common sense to construct improved accommodation. This has progressed over time from shacks to solid brick and mortar structures with internal ablutions ( Turok and Borel-Saladin 2016 ). These provide more secure and healthier living conditions for people who can afford a basic rent, but much less than typical formal market rentals. There has been further evolution in some localities to two-storey rental units and small blocks of flats on infill sites. Several private finance firms have acknowledged the potential by providing loans and practical assistance to help people construct these buildings in return for a share of the rent. Otherwise they rely on unsecured personal loans and borrowing from family and friends.

Yet, the very success of backyarding is creating other challenges that require attention, including overloaded infrastructure and safety hazards. When ten or more families occupy sites designed for single families, there are heightened risks of electricity breakdowns, water and sewage system failures, and the spread of fires. Most dwellings do not comply with municipal bylaws, zoning schemes, or building regulations because these procedures are too onerous. The government doesn’t know what to do about this, or about backyard housing generally ( Scheba and Turok 2020 ). Public officials assume they can govern these places through formal rules and standards that are just too burdensome. The regulations were designed in different circumstances and aren’t realistic or appropriate in the current context (CDE 2020; McKenna 2020 ). Some officials try to enforce compliance but are obliged to retreat in the face of community resistance and threats. Most just look the other way and disregard everyday occurrences of non-compliance. Widespread indifference and neglect risk a vicious cycle of vulnerability, ungovernability, and slum formation as rising population densities overload public services, infrastructure falls into disrepair, public spaces deteriorate, public trust dwindles, and the ability of government to enforce any rules at all is eroded. Municipalities already collect very little from property taxes or service fees in these areas, despite some landlords now earning quite substantial rents.

A more favourable scenario would involve the negotiation of some kind of social compact whereby public authorities simplify the regulatory framework, offer constructive assistance, and upgrade their infrastructure services in return for people complying with essential standards and beginning to contribute to local taxes. A purposeful, hands-on strategy to retrofit, rehabilitate, and maintain townships in this way would create the conditions for more liveable and prosperous neighbourhoods into the future. With guidance and ingenuity, one could also envisage the creation of mixed-use high streets and vibrant precincts accommodating all kinds of retail activities, personal services, and workshops on the ground floor of two- or three-storey residential units ( Charman et al. 2020 ). External support, including bank financing, could help some backyard developers to upscale and become more significant providers of affordable housing with a bigger impact on the backlog. This scenario requires municipalities to engage more deliberately with the existing processes underway on the ground. Streamlining regulations and offering advice with building design and structural standards would improve the quality of dwellings and provide safeguards for the health and safety of residents. Formal recognition of these new rental properties would also increase their long-term resale value and bring them into the tax system. National government could help with the regulatory reforms and dedicated funding to expand the bulk infrastructure.

30.5 Transport and Urban Connectivity

An efficient and affordable transport system is vital to connect jobs and housing in ways that maximize the choices available to workers and firms. Spatial mobility also fosters social mobility by expanding job-seeker horizons and opportunities. The speed, safety, and reliability of transport networks are relevant, including how easily commuters can transfer between different modes. Every city has a different built form and history of transport investment, so devolving policy levers and operational controls to local authorities seems sensible to improve transport planning and system responsiveness. Yet this is complicated in practice, especially with an incoherent transport network in place and limited existing institutional capabilities available.

Public transport plays a particularly important role in South African cities because of their disjointed built form and long distances between most townships and economic nodes ( Turok 2014 ). Most poor black households face very lengthy commutes and high travel costs, typically consuming between 20-40 per cent of their incomes ( van Ryneveld 2018 ). Cities are also burdened by the legacy of a transport system designed to control where people lived and how they travelled. Transport infrastructure was used to separate different groups and marginalize black communities in isolated locations. The system for white communities was dominated by building roads for private car travel. Key decisions were centralized within national and provincial government, where the transport sector was well resourced with strong technical (engineering) capacity to pursue its mandate. There was little competence for transport planning at the city level, confounding any simple objective of devolution.

Transport was identified as one of five priority areas for socio-economic development by the 1994 government, although policy did not change greatly in practice. The historic emphasis on private road-based transport continued, illustrated by the massive Gauteng Freeway Improvement Project, despite doubts about roadbuilding as a lasting solution to traffic congestion ( van Ryneveld 2018 ). Meanwhile, investment in the commuter rail network continued to be neglected. The Constitution stated that public transport was an overlapping responsibility of the three spheres of government. In practice this seems to have frustrated the formulation of an alternative, more transformative strategy. The most significant initiative in the democratic era was the boost to public transport linked to the 2010 World Cup. It was driven from the centre by the government giving large capital grants to the metros to implement bus rapid transit (BRT) systems, the operating costs of which were to be met by local ratepayers. This was the first major injection of public transport funds to city authorities in the country’s history ( van Ryneveld 2018 ).

The idea was imported from Latin America by consultants and intended to become the backbone of each city’s public transport network, absorbing and replacing minibus-taxis. However, within a few years it became apparent that BRT was ill suited to SA’s low densities and long travel distances. Commuting patterns are tidal rather than two-way, with little seat turnover during each trip. Consequently, ticket revenues are far lower as a share of operating costs than in cities elsewhere. This has created serious financial burdens for municipalities and provoked doubts about whether BRT can be sustained into the future ( Duminy et al. 2020 ). The whole experience raises question-marks about the government foisting an inappropriate system onto the cities, and about the competence of the metros in relation to transport planning ( van Ryneveld 2018 ). BRT has become an additional stand-alone service and achieved little by way of reforming other parts of the transport system. This is reminiscent of the RDP housing programme in standing separate from the wider property market.

Current urban mobility arrangements face three additional challenges. First, institutional responsibilities and funding streams are fragmented, which is a serious hindrance to integrating the transport network. Commuter rail is managed by a national agency, which has suffered from mismanagement and corruption for many years ( Chipkin and Swilling 2018 ). The service has deteriorated to the point where it barely functions in several cities, causing increased road congestion. Over the years, there has been no apparent effort to encourage residential development around the stations on land owned by the agency, which would increase ridership and generate income for reinvestment in the service. The bus system is managed by provincial governments based on subsidies provided to private companies. The service is widely considered to be inefficient and the vehicle fleet is outdated ( Turok 2014 ). The 2009 National Land Transport Act advocated transferring public transport functions to the metros, but progress has been very slow ( van Ryneveld 2018 ). Inadequate technical capacity is an obvious obstacle, along with resistance from vested interests and lack of clarity on how this should happen ( Duminy et al. 2020 ). Devolution poses serious financial risks to the metros, although it also offers the potential to transform everyday travel experiences for millions of people and to create better cities.

Second, urban transport planning is poorly articulated with land-use and built environment decisions. This is partly because the transport functions are dispersed across agencies, but also because the transport sector operates in a silo with its own regulations, procedures, professional skillsets, and traditions ( Turok 2014 ). City governments lack the policy instruments and know-how to coordinate transport investments with housing decisions, spatial plans, land-use controls, and infrastructure projects. The Cities Support Programme has endeavoured to strengthen municipal capacity in transport planning, which may in due course facilitate devolution ( Duminy et al. 2020 ). To shift inherited settlement patterns and densify the built environment will require more determined efforts to develop infill sites (many of which are publicly owned), to intensify activity in the inner cities and along transport corridors, and to convert and redevelop low-rise buildings in the inner suburbs for residential purposes ( Turok 2016a ).

Third, public transport is dominated in practice by minibus-taxis, which traditionally have fallen outside the scope of transport plans and subsidies. Two-thirds of all public transport trips for work and study use minibus-taxis—twice as many as trains and buses combined ( van Ryneveld 2018 ). The taxi industry is more flexible and responsive to commuter needs than the formal transport system. It also generates many employment opportunities and operates with very little government funding. However, taxis have exploitative labour practices, a poor safety record, and do not operate scheduled services ( Charman et al. 2020 ). Operating licences are regulated by provincial governments, so the metros tend to exclude taxis from their transport plans. Nevertheless, there is gradual acceptance across government that taxis need to be incorporated into plans for a future hybrid public transport system which would be more flexible and cost-effective than the current infrastructure-heavy rail and BRT services ( World Bank 2018 ; Duminy et al. 2020 ). The transition will be difficult to manage because the industry is currently largely informal, often unruly, and socially powerful, which fits uncomfortably alongside the rule-bound procedures of the state. Purposeful leadership with an appetite for negotiation and creative problem-solving will be required to integrate taxis into a superior transport network. Strengthening the role of civil-society organizations and community groups would help to promote the interests of commuters and not just those of more powerful stakeholders.

30.6 Conclusion

There are compelling arguments and increasing evidence from around the world that agglomeration promotes economic dynamism and social progress. The economies of scale and frequent business and human interactions foster learning, expedite labour market matching, and enable the sharing of resources and infrastructure. Yet, large dense cities also generate adverse effects, including congestion, overcrowding, and social discord. These drawbacks tend to be more conspicuous than the benefits and exert a bigger influence on the attitudes of decision-makers. Consequently, many public officials are sceptical about urbanization and do not appreciate the need—or lack the appetite—to actively support, guide, and manage the process.

Ambivalence towards urbanization is problematic because it inhibits a common vision and coordinated strategy across government towards building cities. Without anticipatory investment in urban land and infrastructure and dynamic shaping of the public domain, large-scale urban growth is likely to be detrimental to the economy, society, and environment. A constructive approach that prepares the ground and deliberately engages with the processes at work stands a much better chance of realizing the potential of urbanization to raise productivity, boost private investment, and generate employment. Increasing the capabilities of city governments responsible for planning, regulating, and framing the built environment can make a major contribution to successful urban development.

The post-apartheid government has taken a more neutral stance towards urbanization than the previous regimes. Robust metropolitan authorities were created to manage city growth, but without some of the essential policy levers in land, housing, and transport to densify well-located areas and improve the spatial form. Efforts to empower the metros and hold them accountable for leading the way in national economic development lost momentum after the 1990s. By treating different places even-handedly, national government has avoided inflaming sensitivities surrounding territorial issues. However, relatively little positive action has been taken to overcome the spatial distortions of apartheid and to harness the developmental possibilities of better structured cities. Policies towards housing and transport have inadvertently perpetuated inefficient and unfair urban forms. This has aggravated the racialized reproduction of poverty and inequality that dates back more than a century.

Some of the dilemmas faced are illustrated by the growth of urban informality—in the labour market, housing, transport, and other sectors. On the one hand, informal modes of provision show signs of dynamism, creativity, and adaptation to the requirements of poor communities. Grassroots initiatives, energy, and capacity are being mobilized to meet everyday needs, exposing weaknesses in many formal policies in the process. On the other hand, many of those involved as workers, households, and service users lack important safeguards and protections because of governance limitations in many informal systems. In view of the capacity constraints facing the state, informal practices need to be recognized and ways found to strengthen and regularize them. This requires a shift in approach from regulatory compliance and top-down delivery methods, towards more of an enabling, capacity-building role. Municipalities need to get more closely involved in understanding developments on the ground and working together with civil society actors and interests on joint projects to chart the way forward. Experimenting with different forms of practical assistance for informal enterprises and new governance arrangements is likely to be important, along with more research, evaluation, and evidence collection.

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South Africa’s apartheid legacy is still hobbling research – a study of geography shows how

hypothesis of development geography in south africa

Professor in Tourism Geography, University of Johannesburg

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Knowledge matters. It informs how we think about the world around us. It informs our decisions and government policies, supporting economic growth and development.

Knowledge is also power. Certain types of knowledge are given more value than others . This is driven by histories of privilege. In South Africa, apartheid looms large in debates about how knowledge is produced. Though it formally ended 30 years ago, it still influences whose knowledge is considered “right” and whose is sidelined.

And this matters in everyday lives. For instance, health and medical research and instruction used to focus on white and male bodies. This has directly affected the provision and quality of healthcare.

Crucially, control over the production of knowledge provides political, economic and social power. This has real effects on education, healthcare, social policy and service delivery.

In a recent research paper we studied how apartheid legacies continue to affect the work of universities in South Africa. In particular we looked at the outputs of the discipline of human geography , which is our specialisation. It’s the study of how space and time influence economic, social, political and cultural actions.

We found that universities that were historically more advantaged – that is, they served mostly white students – continue to outpace the country’s other institutions in terms of research output. This was true for quantity and quality of publication outputs in journal articles and academic books and chapters.

Our findings show that apartheid’s legacy continues to affect academic output. This suggests that not enough has been done to address inequalities around funding, networking and opportunities for international collaboration. It means that South Africa’s academic landscape continues to reflect the views of a privileged few.

We examined what drove these disparities, and identified strategies to begin shifting the dial.

Historical background

The history of South African human geography as a discipline is inextricably linked with colonialism. It was heavily influenced by conservative religious ideas and notions of racial superiority . And during the apartheid era topics were deliberately studied with a notional “non-political” focus, or research was used to support apartheid legislation.

Read more: Colonial legacies shape urban nature: why this should change

In the 1970s some research began to emerge about how apartheid policies affected Black communities. This was a first. Research had largely toed the apartheid government’s line and not focused on the deleterious effects of segregation and oppression.

But, overall, universities either served white or “non-white” students. White universities were well-resourced while others were not.

After 1994, South Africa’s human geographers turned to policy-relevant work as the country embarked on building a democracy. They began to support post-apartheid priorities related to the economy, small business and spatial development.

The same dominant hierarchies

The transition from apartheid led to the opening of South African universities. The racial make-up of institutions began to change. And South African academics began re-engaging with global academia after isolationist apartheid policies were lifted and international boycotts ended.

However, clear resourcing differences and hierarchies remain between (historically) advantaged and disadvantaged institutions . Consequently, the discipline remains dominated by a handful of departments. Their dominance is maintained by income generation (student fees, publication income, grants), networks – and prestige.

Our research shows that academics from historically disadvantaged institutions feel removed from these global and national networks.

We found a significant concentration of research outputs among a few (historically) advantaged institutions. This allows them to generate research income and mobilise international collaborations to fund larger projects. That allows academics to take on lighter teaching loads. And that gives them more time to conduct and publish research.

International collaborators are drawn by these institutions’ reputations, histories and resources. It’s easier for academics to visit international universities and participate in international funding applications. Such institutions are also able to support young human geography academics and encourage greater publication outputs in ways that under-resourced and small departments struggle to match.

Human geographers at historically advantaged universities have mobilised international networks to appoint overseas academics to honorary positions. These moves boost the institutions’ publication outputs – and their income from government subsidies and incentives .

As one interviewee described it, the cycle of opportunity and prestige for historically advantaged institutions leaves

historically Black institutions always on the back foot … the playing ground is not levelled.

The way forward

These challenges could be addressed in several ways. One approach might be for more resourced universities to support historically disadvantaged institutions in developing contacts, networks and strategic policies to attract and appoint visiting research fellows. This would open up opportunities for funding. That, ultimately, will lead to more research and knowledge being produced.

Many of our interviewees said that more collaboration was needed between historically advantaged and historically disadvantaged institutions. This should be encouraged. Human geographers from historically disadvantaged universities must be consulted about what kinds of support they need, rather than ideas being imposed by those from well-resourced institutions.

Other priorities could include stronger mentoring for early- and mid-career staff. Training is crucial, too, to develop skills in journal and grant writing. Even something as simple as institutions updating online staff profiles would be valuable. This helps to promote individuals’ research interests. It also supports network building and collaborations.

Perhaps, most of all, there’s a need – as one interviewee told us – to push for difficult conversations about inequalities and shortcomings to “shed light on what is missing”.

Ultimately, commitment is required to realise a more ethical South African human geography. The government, universities, and individual academics all have a role to play in fostering inclusion and collaboration that work beyond historical inequalities. This will help to make the sub-discipline more robust and cutting edge. And that’s ultimately beneficial to academics, students and the country at large.

  • South Africa
  • South African universities
  • post-apartheid
  • Research collaboration
  • Researchers
  • Structural inequality
  • Human geography
  • knowledge production

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Developmental state theory and its application in geography

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  • Published: 20 August 2021
  • Volume 1 , article number  214 , ( 2021 )

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  • Ujjaini Das   ORCID: orcid.org/0000-0001-9903-8241 1  

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The scholarship on the developmental state has been influential in some scholarly arenas, and virtually ignored in others such as human geography. Recognizing this conceptual lacuna, the purpose of this paper is to review the developmental state theory and its use in diverse fields, examine arenas of human geographic research where the application of the theory has been successful and propose arenas where the theory can prove to be beneficial. To that end, the paper first, discusses the theoretical concepts, analytical tools, theoretical relevance and limitations of developmental state theory. Since, a major focus of state scholars has been to examine various dimensions of state-industry relationships, the paper additionally, explains the state’s role in determining industrial location patterns and in framing industrial policies in the present period of neoliberalism. Next, it encapsulates the arenas in which the developmental state approach has proved to be useful. This includes studies that have analyzed the state’s role in fostering economic development, promoting welfare, shaping transnational agreements, creating private sector partnerships and in providing environmental protection. The paper then analyzes ways in which insights from the theory have informed human geographic scholarship and explains how the scope of both developmental state and human geography can be broadened by examining the state’s relation with other sectors that have been undertheorized including the agricultural sector. Finally, the paper explains how the theory can be productive in two branches of human geography including economic and labor geography.

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Das, U. Developmental state theory and its application in geography. SN Soc Sci 1 , 214 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1007/s43545-021-00215-5

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DOI : https://doi.org/10.1007/s43545-021-00215-5

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South Africa

Growth through inclusion in south africa with ricardo hausmann, harvard report diagnoses drivers of south africa's severe economic and social challenges, researchers at the growth lab identify problems undermining inclusive growth: collapsing state capacity and spatial exclusion.

Cambridge, MA — A new report by Harvard's Growth Lab finds that South Africa's economy is performing poorly, and its society is facing the consequences of extreme unemployment and inequality. Three decades after the end of apartheid, the economy is...

It is painfully clear that South Africa is performing poorly, exacerbating problems such as inequality and exclusion. The economy’s ability to create jobs is slowing, worsening South Africa’s extreme levels of unemployment and inequality. South Africans are deeply disappointed with social progress and dislike the direction where the country seems to be heading. Despite its enviable productive capabilities, the national economy is losing international competitiveness. As the economy staggers, South Africa faces deteriorating social indicators and declining levels of public satisfaction with the status quo. After 15 years, attempts to stimulate the economy through fiscal policy and to address exclusion through social grants have failed to achieve their goals. Instead, they have sacrificed the country's investment grade, increasing the cost of capital to the whole economy, with little social progress to show for it. The underlying capabilities to achieve sustained growth by leveraging the full capability of its people, companies, assets, and knowhow remain underutilized. Three decades after the end of apartheid, the economy is defined by stagnation and exclusion, and current strategies are not achieving inclusion and empowerment in practice.

This report asks the question of why. Why is the economy growing far slower than any reasonable comparator countries? Why is exclusion so extraordinarily high, even after decades of various policies that have aimed to support socio-economic transformation? What would it take for South Africa to include more of its people, capabilities, assets, and ideas in the functioning of the economy, and why aren’t such actions being undertaken already? The Growth Lab has completed a deep diagnostic of potential causes of South Africa’s prolonged underperformance over a two-year research project. Building on the findings of nine papers and widespread collaboration with government, academics, business and NGOs, this report documents the project’s central findings. Bluntly speaking, the report finds that South Africa is not accomplishing its goals of inclusion, empowerment and transformation, and new strategies and instruments will be needed to do so. We found two broad classes of problems that undermine inclusive growth in the Rainbow Nation: collapsing state capacity and spatial exclusion.

Learn more about the Growth Lab's research engagement,  Growth Through Inclusion in South Africa .

#DevTalks: Building Inclusive Cities

Combining satellite data with FAO potential yields we provide a new measure of South Africa's current and potential crop farming output. We find that field crop production is twice its census estimate, contributing 1.4% of GDP rather than 0.7%, and that achieving potential could increase its contribution a further 0.5% of GDP. Estimating horticulture potential is more difficult. We find that its 0.7% contribution to GDP is massively unreported, with actual production at 2.5%. Reaching potential could increase this number a further 0.5%. The distance from current to potential output represents over 100 billion 2017 rand of additional gross income and about 350.000 thousand jobs and is unevenly distributed across the country and concentrated in four provinces: Free State, Western Cape, Kwazulu-Natal and Eastern Cape. Our result suggests that there is room to expand agriculture, but because the potential gains are geographically concentrated, the solutions should have a strong location dimension.

Related project: Growth through Inclusion in South Africa

We discuss three cases of corporate-smallholder partnerships in South Africa’s former homelands, which have tried to bridge the problem of low productivity by supplying technology, technical assistance and financing along with established channels for sales and distribution. The cases are indicative of some key difficulties faced by such ventures: building trust, finding a suitable partner, successfully transferring technological to small farms, and reducing risk, particularly climate related. In order for these types of partnerships to help close the gap between South Africa’s two agricultures, solutions to these problems must be provided at greater scale. We explore mechanisms to achieve that scale, drawing lessons from South Africa’s successful franchising sector, as well as newly emerging business models and technologies from abroad.

Setting the Grounds to Measure Smallholder Farmers' Complexity

By Laura Romero

The Growth Lab has estimated economic complexity, a measure of knowhow agglomeration, for several countries worldwide. However, measuring complexity in the agricultural sector poses a significant challenge. What is more, measuring it for smallholder farmers around the world is even more complex. Through our work, we have laid the groundwork for future measures of complexity for this population...

South Africa’s labor market exhibits a unique equilibrium with one of the highest unemployment rates in the world and yet a low level of informal employment. The unemployment rate has remained high and persistent over recent decades, in spite of the formal demise of the apartheid regime and subsequent transition to democracy in 1994. This paper uses a matching model of the labor market to argue that spatial considerations combined with low productivity of informal work may be responsible for such an outcome. Spatial dispersion inherited from the apartheid regime thins the labor market, creating exclusion and perpetuating spatial segregation. In most developing countries, the result would be higher employment in informal or own account employment. However, with low productivity in the informal sector, the high rate of exclusion shows itself in higher unemployment rates instead. Transportation costs and housing deregulation may become key factors in improving the working of the labor market in South Africa especially if it is not possible to raise informal productivity.

Related project: Growth Through Inclusion in South Africa

Can South Africa’s segregation policies explain, at least partially, its current poor employment outcomes? To explore this question, we study the long-term impact of the forced resettlement of around 3.5 million black South Africans from their communities to the so-called “homelands” or “Bantustans”, between 1960 and 1991. Our empirical strategy exploits the variability in the magnitude of resettlements between communities. Two main findings. First, the magnitude of outgoing internal migrations was largest for districts close to former homelands. Second, districts close to former homelands have higher rates of non-employed population in 2011. Together the evidence suggests that districts that experienced racial segregation policies most intensely, as measured by outgoing forced resettlements, have worse current employment outcomes.

This report analyzes the economic legacy of spatial exclusion in South Africa, focusing on the long-term effects of the former Bantustan policy. Through quantitative analysis, the report explores the spatial dimension of economic activity in South Africa and specifically how this particular spatial institution has continued to shape current economic outcomes, despite past and present attempts to reverse the effect. The report also identifies areas for further research and potential intervention to enable more effective economic inclusion of the former homeland areas of the country.

Related project: Accelerating Growth Through Inclusion in South Africa

The report aims to inform the government’s strategic approach towards manufacturing by analyzing the potential and limits for job creation within the sector. To meet that goal, we analyze the sector’s main features and recent trajectory through the lens of global deindustrialization and South Africa’s particular industrial dynamics. Secondly, we provide evidence of how, when, and why South Africa has deviated from the global deindustrialization trends. Lastly, we provide a policy framework to address the bottlenecks that are preventing South Africa from getting back on a better track of industrial performance.

This report analyzes the causes and consequences of South Africa’s high rates of unemployment and the unique nature of labor market exclusion in the country. It leverages a combination of new quantitative analysis using South African datasets and international datasets for benchmarking, together with synthesis of existing literature and case studies. The goal is to: (1) characterize the challenge of labor market exclusion in South Africa, (2) identify ways in which this is similar and different to other countries, (3) understand what drives the unique challenges of the labor market in South Africa, and (4) narrow down what policy areas are most important to address the underlying drivers. This report takes a diagnostic approach to understand the causes of South Africa’s unique pattern of low informality.

This paper explores franchising in South Africa, and its potential to help resolve the economy’s challenges of low entrepreneurship and concentrated ownership. South Africa features a large franchising sector, with half a million formal workers and a large number of small businesses owners competing directly with vertically integrated chains. Traditional franchising may not have much space for further growth as a percentage of the economy, but it can be made more inclusive with innovations in franchise finance that broaden the base of potential franchisees, as well as enforcement of consumer protections to ensure franchisee-franchisor relationships are balanced. The expansion of the franchising model to less capital-intensive business concepts and serving lower-income consumers (micro-franchising) is one area with expanding growth potential for the country, while the application of the franchising model to public services and socially driven organizations is less promising. Finally, while the franchising model is only directly applicable to particular sectors, there are features of franchising and the capabilities built up around the franchising that could be applied to other priority areas of the economy, in particular to smallholder agriculture. The success of traditional franchising shows the power of a menu of standardized proposals and contracts in a marketplace with a range of franchisors (in this case, up- and downstream agriculture corporates) offering different opportunities to potential franchisees (in this case, smallholder farming communities), along with training and technology transfer at scale.

#DevTalks: The Role of Business in South Africa's Future

Growth through inclusion in south africa.

This two-year research project aims to diagnose the causes of South Africa’s economic challenges and collaborate with government and beyond to accelerate growth and include more South Africans in the process.

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  2. Africa according to the Human Development Index [4800x4790] : r/MapPorn

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  3. All About the Geography of South Africa, Facts, Figures, Maps and More

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  4. Geography

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  4. South Africa White Population

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  1. Urban Geography in South Africa: Perspectives and Theory

    Prof Ashley Gunter is an Associate Professor in Geography at the University of South Africa. He started his academic career at Monash South Africa, a branch campusof Monash University in Australia. His research interests lie in the neoliberal state of education in the post-apartheid South African system as well as infrastructure and development.

  2. Urbanization, Agglomeration, and Economic Development in South Africa

    Around the world, economists of various persuasions have been developing a deeper understanding of the importance of geography for economic growth and development (Porter 2003; Krugman 2011; Glaeser 2011; Collier and Venables 2017).An initial interest in transport costs has broadened into the positive effects of spatial concentration on productivity and innovation.

  3. Geography and Development in The South African Context

    Development is a priority concern in South Africa, a concern of government and of the people themselves in that the interdependent social, political, economic and natural environments and their impacts have to be understood and monitored. The ethos and focus of geography has a strong, vibrant applicability to development theory and strategy.

  4. Structuring South Africa's national economic space: A regional corridor

    I Director, Geography, Statistics South Africa, ISIbalo House, Koch street, Salvokop, Pretoria, South Africa. Phone: ... The principle and theory underlying development corridors is that economic growth is created from transforming the functional relationships that already exist between urban or regional centres into economic development zones ...

  5. Is urbanisation in South Africa on a sustainable trajectory?

    Conclusion. Urbanisation is an important process with far-reaching social, economic and environmental implications for South Africa. This paper explores the relationship between urbanisation and household living conditions over the last decade. The main question addressed is whether urban growth has contributed to shared prosperity and is on a ...

  6. Urban Geography in South Africa : Perspectives and Theory

    This book embraces South Africa and its place in the Global South, providing a succinct theoretical and empirical analysis and discussion of urban issues in the country. There have been sporadic calls from the Urban Geography community for the development of an overarching and comprehensive text that explores contemporary processes and practices taking place in urban South Africa and, more ...

  7. Urban Geography in South Africa Perspectives and Theory ...

    Community development and urban regeneration are implemented in South Africa under different developmental policies. However, it is the sole mandate of the local government (municipalities) to ...

  8. New Perspectives on the Discipline of Geography in South Africa

    Geography research and teaching have a long history in South Africa, and Geographers are well placed to engage with issues affecting South Africa in the twenty-first century, including climate ...

  9. Economic-geographic theory from the South: African experience and

    Most work in economic geography is on the Global North and developing Asia. However, this geographical bias occludes other(ed) places that could inform theory. This intervention conceptualizes Africa's experience in the global economy through the development of a typology of globalization (Globalization 1, 2, 3).

  10. Land degradation in South Africa: Justice and climate change in tension

    This hypothesis argues that rising CO 2 fertilises woody plant growth relative to grasses, accelerating tree and shrub recruitment into rangelands (Archer et al., ... The policy framework for land and rural development in South Africa is not a purely national concern but is shaped by and interacts with the landscape of international policy ...

  11. South African geomorphology: current status and new challenges

    Geomorphology plays a pivotal role in linking the traditional subdisciplines of physical geography. This is because geomorphological processes are influenced by climate, and geomorphology in turn strongly controls land surface hydrology and ecosystems. This review assesses the current status of geomorphology in South Africa.

  12. Development Geography

    Development geography produces debate and analysis on international development and global inequality. The hallmark of work in this area is the elaboration of theory from sustained field engagement in specific Global South settings. Because of this it makes an important contribution to the wider discipline of Human Geography and other social ...

  13. South Africa's apartheid legacy is still hobbling research

    In South Africa, apartheid looms large in debates about how knowledge is produced. Though it formally ended 30 years ago, it still influences whose knowledge is considered "right" and whose is ...

  14. An overview of rural-urban migration in South Africa: its causes and

    The need for deliberate transformative and sustainable urban planning and development in 2 South Africa is informed by the ugly legacies of apartheid that still linger in the country, especially ...

  15. PDF African Theories of Development and The Reality of Underdevelopment

    International Journal of Development and Economic Sustainability Vol.4, No.4, pp.12-19, August 2016 ___Published by European Centre for Research Training and Development UK (www.eajournals.org) 12 2053-2199 (Print), 2053-2202(Online) AFRICAN THEORIES OF DEVELOPMENT AND THE REALITY OF UNDERDEVELOPMENT Ozoigbo Bonaventure Ikechukwu

  16. Theses and Dissertations (Geography)

    Urban landscape change and its relationality to sense of place : the case study of Swakopmund. Pocsi, Antal Faghan (2022-10) This dissertation presents Swakopmund, Namibia, as a case study and asks how changes in the landscape brought about by urban development and modernisation influence the sense of place experienced by the resident population.

  17. Developmental state theory and its application in geography

    The scholarship on the developmental state has been influential in some scholarly arenas, and virtually ignored in others such as human geography. Recognizing this conceptual lacuna, the purpose of this paper is to review the developmental state theory and its use in diverse fields, examine arenas of human geographic research where the application of the theory has been successful and propose ...

  18. South Africa

    November 15, 2023. Researchers at the Growth Lab identify problems undermining inclusive growth: collapsing state capacity and spatial exclusion. Cambridge, MA — A new report by Harvard's Growth Lab finds that South Africa's economy is performing poorly, and its society is facing the consequences of extreme unemployment and inequality. Three ...

  19. South African Geographical Journal

    Journal metrics Editorial board. The South African Geographical Journal was founded in 1917 and is the flagship journal of the Society of South African Geographers. The journal aims at using southern Africa as a region from, and through, which to communicate geographic knowledge and to engage with issues and themes relevant to the discipline.

  20. Migration, the socio-economic and political development: the South

    121. Migration, the Socio-Economic and Polit ical. Development: The South African Experi ence. Enaifoghe Osehi Andrew. Department of Public Administration. University of Zululand, KwaDlangezwa ...