From basic needs towards socio-spatial transformation: coming to grips with the 'Right to the City' for the urban poor in South Africa

Tristan Gorgens, Mirjam van Donk

The 'Right to the City' is a concept that has become an important rallying cry over the last fifty years for those protesting the growth of inequality, marginalisation, discrimination and a lack of public participation in decision-making in the functioning of cities. Indeed, its rise to development orthodoxy has been signalled by its widespread use by UN-affiliated organisations and radical social movements alike. Embedded within the concept is a strong critique of urban management approaches, exemplified by South Africa's, which are state-centric, housing-driven and tend to safeguard individual property rights over the social function of land and the city. Nonetheless, despite its increasing presence in the rhetoric of civil society and social movements in South Africa, it has yet to be given a concrete and context-specific form.

The research presented in this paper, then, seeks to investigate the applicability and efficacy of the internationally-derived advocacy agenda for 'The Right to the City' in consolidating an urban transformation agenda from concrete struggles for social justice and service delivery in South Africa. It does this in two sections: first, an overview of the origins, debates and uses of the Right to the City concept is provided, paying particular attention to debates around its content and use by different stakeholders. Second, drawing on the results of an Isandla Institute Dialogue Series, the potential content and uses of the Right to the City in a South African context are outlined. 

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