Deepening Division in Johannesburg

Perspecta 50
Yale School of Architecture | MIT Press
October 2017

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“Global cities are fraught with divisions at a variety of intensities and scales. Many sites face deepening division today as evidenced by heightened anti-immigration sentiment in Europe, a politics of polarization in the United States, increasingly unaffordable city centers in New York and London, and the construction of global border walls.

Despite decades of post-apartheid nation building and a respected and inclusive constitution, South Africa has seen increased forms of division emerge. Its most populous city, Johannesburg, is notoriously revered as one of the most divided cities in the world, a reputation made possible by more than a century of social, economic, and racial division. As such, the city has become regarded as a litmus test for uniting divided cities. Located in Gauteng Province, South Africa’s smallest, densest, and most economically active province, Johannesburg together with the cities of Tshwane (Pretoria) and Ekurhuleni form an integrated conurbation known as the Gauteng City-Region.

Forged by labor exploitation and resource extraction, Johannesburg’s fate as a segregated city was almost sealed. Mining brought class and income inequality structured along racial and ethnic lines. British colonialism that followed further engrained racial division and, importantly, set in place the foundations of a racialized spatial geography....

... These economic changes continue to have profound effects on South Africa’s cities, most notably Johannesburg. Here inequality manifests spatially and physically at both ends of the spectrum. It can be seen in the form of high-security complexes, walled residential estates, and the privatized policing of wealthy suburbs, as well as in makeshift and over-crowded inner city housing and distant dormitory suburbs, where low-income earners remain confined.

Numerous contemporary urban processes have evolved to support division in the city. As such, this research proposes a scaled approach to understanding these processes and how they are deepening division in Johannesburg. This is achieved through an analysis
of the region, the neighborhood, and the body—as governed through municipal bylaws. Recognizing the dynamic rescaling of urban and social process, which is constantly challenging old amalgams such as city, urban, and national, this enquiry re ects on the notion that spatial scales are never fixed. It builds an argument detailing the entangled nature of social, economic, and political process as enacted in multiple scales and spaces...'