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  • Taming the Disorderly City: the spatial landscape of Johannesburg after apartheid
  • Kira Erwin (bio)
Martin J Murray (2008) Taming the Disorderly City: the spatial landscape of Johannesburg after apartheid. Cape Town: UCT Press.

For scholars and students interested in the social formation of cityscapes, Taming the Disorderly City offers a well written examination of theoretical and conceptual thinking in urban studies and spatial analysis. Murray admirably integrates diverse macro theory on the social, political and economic landscape of contemporary cities, predominantly in this case cities in the South. The macro analytical focus, and at times rather generic theory, on cities and space in the first two chapters may leave some readers longing for examples of how this theory is applied to, and played out in, the specificity of Johannesburg. But from early in the third chapter, and indeed throughout the rest of the book, Murray offers ample case studies of different Johannesburg contexts.

Using a Marxist framework Murray provides a detailed critique of real estate capitalism as an agent of city building, more specifically its inability to supply sufficient housing for low income earners and the urban poor. For the most part his argument is persuasive as he illustrates how property investment and development creates debilitating and inhuman conditions which exploit vulnerable groups. Murray gives fascinating and horrifying accounts of slum conditions and unpacks the structural mechanisms that enable slum lords to prey on desperate people. Whilst this type of exploitative rent drawing practice may not be news to scholars of urban South Africa, what this study really brings to the fore is how entwined the process of slum-making is with gentrification. Here the dark underbelly of real estate capital is exposed as part of the package that comes with the type of business investment and city building courted by the Johannesburg municipality. As [End Page 152] real estate capital, supported by the municipality, simultaneously generates decay and gentrification the urban poor are both neglected and criminalised. Murray does well here to include how discourses of crime and grime and 'bad buildings' work in tandem with structural obstacles to pin the blame for city decay on the urban poor, rather than the destructive drive for profit. These discourses are in turn used to justify forced removals of individuals perceived as unwanted elements in the quest for a modern corporate 'world-class' city.

Extensive case studies illustrate how the struggle for housing, and by proxy land, in post apartheid Johannesburg has lead to the exponential growth of peri-urban informal settlements such as Orange farm, and illegal land occupations as in Bredell in 2001. These unregulated and un-serviced settlements provide shelter and strategic networks for large populations where the municipality and private investment have failed to do so. Murray also provides insight into the rather grim entrepreneurs or landlords who control these settlements, usually through offering protection from municipal removals. This desperate need for affordable housing creates a continuous flux of people moving between the peri-urban shanty towns and the myriad of high-rise blocks in the inner city. People caught in this current utilise various income generating strategies within vulnerable and temporary places of accommodation, always at risk of displacement and exploitation. Murray's examples demand critical reflection for post-apartheid city building and policy making. They suggest that the ideology of segregation entrenched during apartheid still informs responses to issues around housing and poverty. He rightly points out that, to a large extent, state housing initiatives are built on the metropolitan edge 'thereby reinforcing existing spatial patterns inherited from the apartheid town-planning initiatives and creating new imbalances' (2008: 101). Likewise the forced removals of squatters in 'bad buildings' and in informal settlement by the municipality, or more accurately the private security company hired by the municipality, bear striking resemblance to those carried out under apartheid.

Murray is at pains to stress that the city of Johannesburg is a fragmented landscape. In some ways this is not surprising considering apartheid actively engineered a fragmented society. Whilst Murray himself cautions that these fragments do intersect and intertwine he does have a tendency to focus on their disparities to the extent that they appear incommensurable, enabling...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1726-1368
Print ISSN
0258-7696
Pages
pp. 152-155
Launched on MUSE
2011-07-02
Open Access
No
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