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The Apartheid City

Author(s): David Simon and A. J. Christopher

Source: Area, Vol. 16, No. 1 (Mar., 1984), pp. 60-62
Published by: The Royal Geographical Society (with the Institute of British Geographers)
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The apartheid



from papers

in area


(Institute of Transport

Studies, University

of Leeds) writes:

Christopher's reflections on the apartheid city (Area 15, 145-9) correctly locate its
origins in the colonial era. Notwithstanding
a few notable contributions tracing the
origin and evolution of urban segregation in South Africa (e.g. Davenport, 1969, 1971;
Swanson, 1977; Rich, 1978) it is also true that much of the literature on urban form
focuses on the post-1948 period and especially on the impact of the notorious Group
Areas Act (e.g. Kuper, Watts and Davies, 1958; W. Davies, 1971; R. Davies, 1972,
1981; Western,
1981). However,
several aspects of Christopher's paper warrant

The first is to point out that a phenomenon as firmly rooted in the past as is
argued, and where 'little break in policy is apparent in 1948 when the present Afrikaner
nationalist government came to power' (p. 147), can hardly be labelled 'a uniquely
modem concept' (p. 145). Conversely, if the latter assertion is true, then a significant
policy change would have had to occur from 1948 on. This, indeed, is the contention
of Davies (1981, 63): whereas the ' Segregation City' was not consciously built to a
comprehensive social design and permitted a degree of flexibility in the spatial accom
modation of its social groups, the post-1948 'Apartheid City' represents a conception
of urban form within a framework overtly structured to achieve a specific social and
economic end. Such a view, while not negating the colonial origins, does have validity.
Given the author's argument that thirteenth century Flint and twentieth century
Soweto have common roots in English colonialism,
it might have been helpful to
introduce some of the conceptual and theoretical literature on colonial cities so as to
evaluate the distinctiveness of the English variety more fully (e.g. De Blij, 1962, 1963;
1967, 1971; Horvath, 1969; Larimore, 1969; King, 1976; Simon, 1983a).
This raises a far broader issue overlooked by Christopher, namely the crucial role of
formal town planning, as pioneered in Britain and France in the 1880s, in creating
many of the structures now regarded as characteristic of the colonial city (King, 1976,
1977-78; Sutcliffe, 1980, 1981). This planning movement provided the means for
institutionalising contemporary socio-cultural ideas and values of the dominant group
onto the physical fabric of urban areas. Given that a new era of colonial city creation
was dawning, most notably in Africa, planners were able to implement their designs
sooner and more comprehensively abroad than to graft them onto extant European
centres. This was exemplified by the 'garden city' philosophy applied in Lusaka and
New Delhi (Collins, 1969, 1980; King, 1976, 1977-78). Given contemporary feelings

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on race, racially segregated residential areas were thus incorporated ab initio in many
sub-Saharan African towns. This feature distinguishes them from earlier cities built
by the same colonial powers e.g. Kingston, Jamaica, where segregation was never as
institutionalised (Clarke, 1975; Simon, 1983a, b). Many South African towns including
Johannesburg (and its Soweto townships) date from the 1880s or later, but segregation
(pre-1948) and apartheid (post-1948) have also been imposed on the earlier ones in
a way which probably distinguishes them from other contemporary colonial cities.
Christopher attributes structural segregation to growing racialism after the 1850s,
with its motivations ranging from the sanitary syndrome to perceived economic and
political threats (p. 146). However, no hint is given of the primary cause of these
sentiments, namely the abolition of slavery, which had ensnared a large proportion of
the population who were not white. Segregation had been unnecessary in the conditions
of total social, economic and political dominance which constituted slave ownership.
Wade (1964) has clearly demonstrated the rise of anti-black sentiment and agitation
for racial separation in the southern USA during the post-slavery decade of the 1850s,
although Christopher does point out (p. 147) that the American constitution prevented
the fruition of attempts to formalise segregation as occurred in South Africa (e.g.
Davenport, 1971; Swanson, 1977; Saunders, 1978). While consistent with the intensity
of British colonial segregative practice, the pressure for segregation in the Cape may
seem surprising, in view of the existence of a large mixed race population and especially
the supposed nineteenth century English 'liberal ' tradition there, so often contrasted
with contemporary Dutch/Afrikaner
racial attitudes. Although
some distinction
between British government policy and local public opinion might be necessary, an
exaggerated belief in a particular Cape liberalism has persisted inmany quarters until
the present time.
Finally, mention must be made of two fundamental distinguishing features of the
modem apartheid city neglected by Christopher. Firstly, this degree of refinement
and institutionalisation of segregation has come about in a politically independent
post-colonial society. Even though the dominant changes in most other post-colonial
cities have been physical growth, accretion of peripheral spontaneous settlements,
and replacement of white elites by black elites rather than structural transformation,
nowhere else has a comparable system arisen. (Even inmetropolitan societies the only
recent approximation would be the Nazi-created
ghettos.) The key factor in South
Africa is continued white minority domination after independence. The second point
is that apartheid is not limited to urban segregation for the reasons discussed above,
or as Christopher suggests, to further Afrikaner aims of a racially pure society after
1948. Segregation forms one (albeit a crucial) facet of an entire political economy
of exploitation. It might be argued that segregation in itself has no connection with
-political economy. While conceptually true, they are well-nigh
inseparable in the
South African situation. The very same Natives (Urban Areas) Acts which instituted
segregation also created influx control. Subsequent application of the Group Areas Act
forced blacks to townships and emergency squatter camps on the urban periphery,
from where it has obviously been politically and practically far easier to remove the
inhabitants to bantustans than from highly visible central city areas akin to relocation
from District Six in Cape Town (mainly coloureds) or Pageview and Vrededorp in
Johannesburg (largely Asians).
It is true that much of the Natives (Urban Areas) legislation, and the Native Land
Acts which govern black land holdings in rural areas and underpin the bantustan policy,
predate National Party rule. But in virtually every sphere, continued white control has
depended on retention and refinement of inherited colonial features and practices.

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to Soweto:


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A. J. Christopher

(University of Port Elizabeth)

in the Cape Colony',


Iwelcome Simon's comments upon my article on the colonial origins of the apartheid
city. The aim of the original article was to elicit thought and comment upon a highly
contentious issue which has complex origins. There may be differences of emphasis
between us but I do not feel we differ in the main thrust of the arguments expounded,
and Iwould heartily endorse Simon's concluding sentence.

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