In 2014, the South African National Department of Human Settlements announced that it would phase out its many small public housing projects of a few hundred units, and housing would now exclusively be delivered in large settlements of thousands of units, called catalytic projects. Shortly afterwards, the Gauteng Provincial government announced its own version of the policy, stating that it intended to build dozens of megaprojects around the Province. This article examines this policy moment both at the national level, and in Gauteng Province. We show how this direction was heralded by a series of bold political announcements and that although they were given some policy content over the subsequent months, the policy development process was superseded by project identification lasting several years. This case demonstrates that policy making in South Africa can be a fast-moving process in which headline ideas are announced and then elaborated, adopted, adapted and resisted by different actors. The result, therefore, is not a single policy but rather a diffuse and contradictory policy turn. While the announcements surprised some observers, we offer a framework of the various logics that fed into this policy direction: a history of scaled-up projects since the 1990s; a desire to ramp up the quantity of houses delivered; the appeal of designing entirely new integrated settlements; the pressure to invest in deprived areas; and the expectation that large projects can cut through bureaucratic blockages. Notwithstanding these imperatives, this policy direction has drawn criticisms for presuming to be able to attract economic activity to new settlements, and for potentially exacerbating urban sprawl.


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pp. 1-31
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