Making Urban Land and Space Matter: A Critique of the South African Approach to Urban Transformation

Isandla Institute, Tristan Gorgens

This Position Paper outlines the position of land within a wider urban governance agenda in South Africa and traces, in some detail, the nine primary reasons why a consolidated urban land agenda has failed to emerge since the advent of democracy. These include (1) the 'land question' is seen as a rural issue in South Africa; (2) there remains the political ambiguity about adopting an urban agenda; (3) 'space-blind' housing delivery has been the de facto urban intervention since democracy; (4) the planning function has been fragmented across different levels of government and has largely received a technocratic interpretation; (5) the failure of the state to produce progressive, normative planning law able to shape socio-spatial transformation; (6) the spatial aspect of planning has been subsumed by strategic, institutional and environmental priorities; (7) the processes of institutional design and redesign since 1994 have drawn attention and resources away from planning; (8) despite multiple institutional opportunities, the planning profession has remained relatively weak and insecure; and (9) the ongoing difficulties in building robust partnerships between the state, the NGO sector and social movements to achieve transformative outcomes.

It concludes by making ten recommendations that will enable the emergence of an urban land agenda able to proactively address current and future socio-spatial inequalities and environmental challenges. For a consolidated overview of the themes and recommendations see Isandla Institute's Position Statement here.

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