Urban governance and politics in South African cities

Anyone who visits South Africa is struck by its beauty but also the country’s deep inequalities. How to manage and transform social, political and economic divisions is at the core of the contested politics of urban governance in South African cities. In my research I am interested in the dynamics between forces that shape urban policies and development, and the everyday experience of citizens who struggle to make a place for themselves in deeply divided cities. My on-going projects partially build upon my PhD research, where I explored community politics and governance in Delft, a poor township on the outskirts of Cape Town. I do in-depth qualitative research because I believe that such grounded inquiries are essential if we want to grasp the messy dynamics of community organising and urban civil society politics, which is often ignored in urban development agendas. Theoretically I draw upon debates on democratization, participation, representation and citizenship, as well as the growing body of work on how to theorize from and analyse African urban experiences. I am also interested in other expressions of civil society politics in South Africa, and am working on a project where I discuss Afrikaner identity politics and mobilisation through a case study of the organisation AfriForum.

Governing a housing crisis? Emergency housing programs and Temporary Relocation Areas (TRA) in Cape Town

My work in Delft has led me to a new project on the politics of temporary relocation in Cape Town. Since 2004, government has built temporary relocation areas (TRAs) in response to housing emergencies, close to Delft. The TRAs and, more recently, the identification of incremental development areas (where temporary relocation gradually will be developed into a permanent settlement) represent a shift in how the City governs their housing responsibilities, with unclear implications.

A first step is to understand these policies of and experiences with relocation in a historical perspective. This will help link current dynamics of relocation, to historical movements of residents and communities which have deeply shaped Cape Town’s urban landscape. I will further explore how local state interventions inform residents’ place in the city and how these interventions inform and reshape sociopolitical dynamics and networks in marginalized communities. The establishment of TRAs close to impoverished communities potentially creates tensions over access to limited resources and services. In Delft for instance, residents challenge the allocation of new housing units built in their communities to people living in the close-by TRA settlement. It is also important to explore the everyday experiences of TRA residents who risk being trapped in a temporary situation for many years without permanent housing solutions.




Marianne Millstein
Social inequality
South Africa
South African cities
Southern Africa
Urban development
community politics
historical perspective
new housing
permanent settlement
relocation areas
temporary housing
urban governance
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