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Reviewed by:
  • Planning and Transformation: learning from the post-apartheid experience
  • Bill Freund (bio)
Philip Harrison, Alison Todes and Vanessa Watson (2008) Planning and Transformation: learning from the post-apartheid experience. London and New York: Routledge (RTPI Library Series).

This book covers the recent South African development of a profession highly relevant to the social sciences: urban and regional planning. The three authors follow the history of planning through the apartheid years and give us a critical interpretation of planning policy as well as the further orientation of the profession since 1994. It is an ideal introduction for planning students who wish a fairly systematic introduction to their field. Its interest also could lie amongst those who wish to explore a particular profession and its development in conditions of transformation; there is really no equivalent in architecture, medicine or law, for instance.

From an historic point of view, planning under the old regime was a fascinating and at times significantly despicable, exercise. Trying to benefit business whilst forcing capital into channels that it sometimes resisted heavily was quite a balancing act. This was a government internationally notorious for 'social engineering' along unacceptable lines, even when that process was in some respects denounced in overly crude terms. One set of planners, trained generally in Afrikaans medium universities, laid out the spatial blueprints for the state. Another, trained in English medium universities, worked for municipalities (and the province, in the case of Natal) and the private sector, which had itself complex relations with the state. While the authors of this volume lay this situation out, they explore it far too little in order to assess its footprint today. Modernism, the other bugbear of the past, to which apartheid planning in some respects deferred but which is not entirely to be condemned, also needs more unpacking than is provided. [End Page 189]

All three authors were products of the English language planning education system where, by the 1980s, there were to be found critical planners, anxious to expose the plans of the state and interested in innovative experiments tolerated in the interstices of a system in decline. For this reason, the experience and viewpoint of this small community of intellectuals – the 'alternative planning movement' – which in turn was well-integrated with other opposition intellectuals and gradually tied in to the political resistance, gets a lion's share of attention. Much of the focus of the book really works around evaluating the fate of this group and their ideas.

There is much that is negative in the balance sheet and it is questionable that we are experiencing a 'complete transformation of a country's planning system' (3). Planners in the new regime have faced a variety of difficult problems, of which the first was political weakness. They were almost entirely white and lacked powerful representation at the top in the ANC political or administrative elite. Thus they had to sell ideas, often indirectly, to politicians who were often more attuned to international best practice salespeople. Politicians in the ANC being politicians, for instance, became convinced that they stood or fell by the sheer number of houses, whatever their condition or location, which they could provide free of charge to their constituents. Inevitable early delays meant that 'throughput' became the name of the game for years.

A strong conviction amongst the alternative planners was the idea of working in a democratic spirit with communities. On the one hand, this proved impossible to sustain within the ANC governance ambit. On the other, there was little preparation for planning on an entirely different scale with inevitably different challenges compared to community based consultation. What does one do when poor, recently arrived, city-dwellers call for solutions that are clearly not ideal for longer-term urban planning as a whole? This dilemma is forcefully laid out on the basis of a study of Crossroads in the Cape Flats.

Second, planners had to overcome the general and comprehensible prejudice against wholesale social engineering through physical planning, a natural reaction to the forceful side of apartheid policy which could profit from international trends to the right and against regulation in general. Their hopes that the RDP of 1994 could become...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1726-1368
Print ISSN
0258-7696
Pages
pp. 189-192
Launched on MUSE
2008-08-31
Open Access
No
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