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Title:Looking beyond the urban poor in South Africa: the new terra incognita for urban geography?
Author:Visser, GustavISNI
Periodical:Canadian Journal of African Studies (ISSN 0008-3968)
Geographic term:South Africa
Subjects:urban society
urban poverty
External link:https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/00083968.2013.770593
Abstract:The past two decades have seen the development of a rich body of scholarship focusing on South African urban settlements. An extensive narrative has emerged on the changing spatialities of the broader urban system, but the representation of South African urban areas remains surprisingly incomplete. The overwhelming majority of research deals with aspects of urban poverty and aims at informing policy and implementation responses that can provide an alternative urban future - with seemingly limited success.The contention in this paper does not challenge the notion that elevated levels of urbanising poverty represent a future development trajectory of the so-called 'real African cities' to which scholars like E. Pieterse refer. However, such an observation requires considerable refinement in the South African urban context. The growing number of urban residents is not necessarily poor. In fact, the number of relatively wealthy, in Africa generally and South Africa in particular, is rapidly expanding. It is the contention of this paper that, while there might be a moral imperative to investigate poor urban lives, there is similarly an empirical and theoretical obligation to investigate beyond the urban poor. The paper argues that the current imbalance in urban scholarship, focusing too heavily on the urban poor, allows the relatively wealthy to reproduce urban spaces as they please, with little scrutiny from scholars and policymakers. It suggests that, as long as we do not take the realities of these 'other' urban dwellers seriously, there is little hope of addressing the fragmentation of the urban form and exclusion of the poor so typical of South African cities. Although existing scholarship aims to integrate currently fragmented cities, ignoring those who are not poor could lead urban scholars to implicitly reinforce South Africa's dualistic cities. Bibliogr., notes, sum. in English and French. [Journal abstract]