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Metropolitanisation and political change in South Africa

Year: 2006
Working paper number: 173
Author: Cameron, Robert
Unit: DARU

The International Metropolitan Observatory is an international network studying metropolitanisation. Firstly, it aims to develop a data base which will help facilitate systematic cross-national analysis of social, spatial and political shifts in metropolitan areas. Secondly, as the data base is developed, it can be used to explore hypotheses about metropolitan patterns and politics in a rigorous comparative way. A number of hypotheses were tested across the 15 country network in Phase 1 of this project. Hypothesis 1 was that metropolitan areas, consisting of cities and suburban peripheries or interlinked cities, increasingly dominate advanced industrial societies. It was also advanced that metropolitan dynamics are also increasingly present in developing countries. In South Africa this proposition was largely correct, although not to the extent that one might have imagined. Hypothesis 2 was that suburban settlement (relatively low-density 'sprawl') outside the central city or urban centre is increasing as a proportion of metropolitan areas, and absorbing a growing proportion of populations. If suburban settlement can be interpreted as relatively low-density outside the central cities, this hypothesis is largely valid in South Africa in that the low-density areas are increasing as a proportion of metropolitan areas. Hypothesis 3 was that with the increasing expansion beyond central city boundaries, metropolitan areas are increasingly geopolitical. In South Africa, the hypothesis that there is increasing geopolitical fragmentation in metropolitan areas is not applicable. Hypothesis 4 was that along with the above dynamics (geopolitical fragmentation), social and economic polarisation has occurred among places within metropolitan areas, especially between cities and their peripheries. The study has shown that while there is virtually no fragmentation in South African cities, social inequality has actually increased over the last 10 years. Hypothesis 5a was that the rise of middle and upper-middle class areas outside central cities has created new bases of support for conservative parties. Election results in South Africa seem to suggest that conservative parties do have disproportionate support in low-density fringe areas. Hypothesis 5b was that new areas outside central cities demonstrate more independence from established party orientations or greater volatility. There was no available evidence to test this hypothesis in South Africa, but it is unlikely to be valid.

Publication file: wp173.pdf