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  • Constructing a developmental nation -the challenge of including the poor in the post-apartheid city1
  • Susan Parnell (bio)


If only in income terms, South African cities are more unequal today than ten years ago. Using a range of indicators they also have higher numbers of poor people (SACM 2004). This is despite steady economic expansion (characterised by growth in GDP, a declining budget deficit, falling public-sector debt and increasing foreign reserves) and the extensive efforts of the post-apartheid state to secure urban reconstruction and development. It is not that there have not been significant advances in constructing a more inclusive system of urban governance, there have. Since 1994 urban poverty reduction has been a key national objective (Box 1), and city governance is slowly receiving greater national political profile if only because of the overwhelming importance of urban economies in maintaining and growing the national economy (SACM 2004). But, the overtly developmental commitments of government have not yet had the desired impact in creating sustained growth or redistribution.

This paper breaks with much of the academic critique of the ten years of transition (Bond 2000, Desai 2002, Marais 1998), and from the conventional view of international development theorists like Escobar (1999) and Ferguson (1995), by arguing for more not less government. In particular I suggest the need for a more careful assessment of the institutional imperatives necessary for rolling out development at the city scale. My argument is not that the state should be the sole driver of development since clearly this is neither viable nor desirable. Rather I suggest that inclusive city development without comprehensive and progressive state engagement is not sustainable and that in South Africa, as in many post-colonial contexts, state apparatus, [End Page 20] especially at the sub-national scale, is inadequately configured for implementing a developmental agenda. In this context the policy emphasis on special projects, like the urban-renewal programmes, might be putting the cart before the horse. What is needed is the putting in place of the fundamentals of city management so that pro-poor developmental initiatives can thrive.

Paradoxically, South Africa's cities are the centre of the nation's wealth but also of its most abject poverty. Without access to land or shelter, work or education the urban underclass must find resources to pay for basic services and costly rentals while they fight to survive in hostile social and environmental conditions. In meeting the challenges of urban poverty the post-1994 democratically elected South African government introduced a system of developmental local government as the foundation for building cities and towns that are more equal and just (Local Government White Paper 1998). Priority was given, too, to the establishment of metropolitan government and district councils that not only secured non-racial sub-national [End Page 21] democracy and a single system of taxation but also created a platform for intra-urban redistribution. Local government does not fund or drive all urban redevelopment and municipal investments provide only a partial perspective on city reconstruction. Despite well-documented concerns about problematic implementation, it would be churlish to ignore the massive national and provincial government investment in housing and other urban infrastructure, or to ignore the positive impact of the deracialisation of the health, education and grant systems on the lives of the urban poor.

Indeed there is a case to be made that the government has done exceptionally well just to keep pace with the growth in demand for urban services, and that once population growth slows the impact of the last ten years of investment will become clearer (see Table 1). Further state efforts at urban reconstruction, including special area-based interventions, are also being initiated and are beginning to take shape. But, as I will demonstrate, despite democracy and the massive extensions of physical and social services, there are still unacceptable levels of urban poverty. In short, without a critical review of the problem of urban poverty and inequality there can be no solution to the post-apartheid development dilemma. I argue that for a government seeking to unlock the developmental potential of its citizens, such a review must focus on the problem of institutional exclusion...


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