FROM THE DESK | Urban Apartheid Spatial Legacies

 In From The Desk

Most South African cities still exhibit apartheid settlement patterns.  Discrete areas of racial concentration and a variety of buffer elements separating them from one another are clearly distinguishable.

Two major pieces of legislation from the 1950s were the primary tools whereby the apartheid city model was imposed on South African towns and cities by the previous regime; namely the Population Registration Act (No. 30 of 1950) and Group Areas Act (No. 41 of 1950).

The Population Registration Act provided for the compulsory classification of people into discrete racially defined groups (e.g. Black, White, Indian & Coloured). These groups formed the basis upon which communities could be spatially segregated through the Group Areas Act; which was used to enforce the segregation of racial group areas.

Segregated group areas were reinforced through a system of buffer elements, ensuring that any new growth would not jeopardize the underlying apartheid settlement structure. Apartheid buffer systems served as barriers to the spatial integration of racial groups. Examples of buffer elements include:

  • Open Space – Large tracts of public open space, vacant land and agricultural activities
  • Industry – Industrial belts, border industry and related land uses
  • Municipal Land Uses, Utilities & Infrastructure – Municipal service infrastructure and utilities, such as rail, road, municipal land uses and electrical / water treatment infrastructure.
  • Other Land Uses – Miscellaneous land uses such as recreational, civic and commercial activities

The map accompanying this post visualizes the legacies of urban apartheid using the city of Potchefstroom as an example. In the absence of Group Areas data, a statistical approach was adopted using the 2001 national census as a correlating proxy. For this approach, where suburbs measured a particular racial predominance of over 60% population, these suburbs were classified according to that dominant racial group. Satellite imagery and other mapping resources were used to classify the buffer elements situated between racial concentration areas.

Informal settlement locations (as per 2009), and post-apartheid public housing delivery patterns (1994-2008) were added to the analysis, considering that these two elements comprise a major public sector investment towards settlement restructuring in the post-apartheid era.

This analysis was done by SATPLAN ALPHA during 2009 as part of the North West Informal Settlement Upgrading Program (ISUP), with a view towards flagging issues associated to the then preferred policy of in-situ upgrading of informal settlements and the potential reinforcement of urban apartheid spatial patterns as a result.

The data suggests that apartheid spatial legacies are still a strong feature of South African cities, illustrated by the spatial relationships between racial concentration areas, remaining buffer elements, low-cost housing delivery patterns and informal settlements, to the extent that:

  • There is a strong correlation between the former group areas and areas of current racial concentration;
  • All major buffer element categories are present and currently active as part of the settlement system;
  • Buffer elements are strongly clustered around the regions currently characterized by white population concentrations;
  • Typical pattern of major industry serving as a dividing wedge between white and non-white group area regions;
  • Informal settlements spatially correlate to non-white areas; in particular those dominated by black residents;
  • Informal settlements are predominantly situated in locations where all of the major buffer types affect them;
  • Informal settlements are predominantly peripherally located along fringe of the non-white region;
  • There is a significant correlation between low cost housing delivery locations and the locations of informal settlements;
  • Low cost housing developed since 1994 is predominantly located in and around pre-existing non-white former group areas.

The overarching urban planning challenge facing South Africa today is the effective dismantling of apartheid spatial legacies, with a view towards integrating former population group areas and deconstructing the remnants of the buffer system. This arduous task is both complex and costly, and will rely on a generation of South African planners’ ability to not only transcend the social constructs of their forefathers, but also draw adequate spatial intelligence into their work.

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