Trying to understand Spatial Inequality in South Africa

Image Reference:

Davis, R.J. 1981. The model of the apartheid city according to Davies. [online]

Workshopping Spatial Inequality in South Africa

On 14 February some people* gathered at The Point and discussed some basics around the topic of Spatial Inequality in South Africa. The discussion was mostly anecdotal and involved us sharing our ideas and understandings of the topic.

We developed the discussion around a diagram that positioned Apartheid City Planning as the Cause of Spatial Inequality and Spatial Justice as the ultimate goal to where we hope to  move from Spatial Inequality in South Africa.

The results from the discussion have been mapped here.

*refering to; J Bennett, M Ndziba, B Calvo, O Setton and S vd Walt.

Spatial Inequality?

The inherent nature of spatial inequality is that it is the physical manifestation of injustice through space and place. It’s existence is due to the roles played by spatial practitioners, albeit in service of the relevant possessors of power (political or economic) at the time.

It is therefore the work of spatial practitioners, with support of those presently in possession of power (political and economic) to practice spatial justice.

Spatial practitioners does not merely refer to planners and architects but all individuals with an interest in the production of space and place, including members of the public. It is therefore integral for those with academic and practical knowledge of the production of space to take into account the knowledge of those who are experts in its use.

Spatial Inequality – a working definition

Spatial inequality is the phenomena where there is an unequal degree of access to resources and services by individuals in certain areas, because of the areas they live in. Traditionally, people living in urban areas had more access to resources and services than those in rural areas because of sheer proximity. However, in situations where other factors have influenced where people may/may not live the distinction is not as simple as Urban and Rural.

The socio-spatial legacy of Apartheid has rendered the South African built environment as distinct zones where opportunity was deliberately kept far away, and on the other side of socio-spatial barriers separating people. The solution would seem to be to balance out the proximity of people to resources – either by making relocation to places of opportunity viable and well-considered or to relocate opportunities to places where there previously was a shortage thereof. Despite the declaration of government to focus on correcting this unbalanced distribution of opportunities, it is often more complicated than single solutions can address. There are many ways to approach these strategies – these ways and their accompanying challenges will form the subject of this site.

Why is Understanding Spatial Inequality Import?

The United Nations has long treasured the notion of Sustainable development, which has consequently been a focus in governments worldwide. In 2015 the United Nations released the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development which served as a follow up to the Millennium Development Goals and hoped to address its shortcomings and build on its successes.

The main goal of the UN is to reduce poverty globally as an implementation of basic human rights for all. It is undeniable that poverty reduction is directly linked to economic growth, which makes it a relevant goal for national governments as well.

The 2030 Agenda outlined 17 Sustainable development goals to simply as 17goals, which were adopted by all the world’s governments and are meant to guide development globally for the next 12 years. The goals were formulated to target not only the world’s poorest nations but all nations, acknowledging that poverty is the world’s problem, not just the problem of the poor. The goals cover the whole sustainability agenda: poverty, human development, the environment, and social justice.

Spatial inequality is an important feature of many developing countries that
seems to increase with economic growth and development (Commission on Growth and Development, 2008:v). It would thus go to show that there is a need to understand the role of Spatial Inequality and a manner in which development can improve the eradication thereof and not its perpetuation. This is especially true since the global goal sustainable development is aimed at the reduction of poverty and the honouring of human rights.

Kim, S for Commission on Growth and Development (2008). Spatial Inequality and Economic Development: Theories, Facts, and Policies. Washington, DC: The World Bank.