Museologia Social e Urbanismo XXVI

Case study on South Africa

So, we talked a little bit about how you need to ideally actually have some understanding of history and how history shape cities and the South African case is a really good example of that. And the reason, it’s a good example is  partly because it’s a story that’s been quite well told but the South African case is one where you cannot understand the contemporary city without reference to the past and you can’t understand contemporary patterns of racial segregation, or of race today which continues to be it was and it continues to be the dominant dialogue about inequality in the country, unless you have understood both the history of the city and the history of race policy.

So I’ll try and show you how that is. And just before I start to say that the argument is basically that race continues to matter hugely in the South African cities but perhaps not in the ways that we always understand.

In other words, I’m going to tell you the story of why the urban poor are almost exclusively black by showing you how that was embedded in the urban form historically. But also implicitly, I’m going to make the argument that not all black people are poor because of the way that the city was managed. That becomes really important, in other words, if you want understand who is black and ‘middle class’ at this point, you need to understand urban history as much as if you need to understand why almost all poor people in South Africa are black.

So race matters; but it matters in two ways: it matters in dictating who’s poor and it matters in the sense that not everybody who is black, is necessarily poor. And that’s some of the confusion that we have at South Africa at the moment: it’s how do you untangle who’s poor and why, is it still Race, is it not still Race? So let me try to help you work, understand that complexity a little better. Apartheid did two things:  it kept people who are Black, of African descent outside of cities. It had a very strict policy of influx control bit like China does, bit like Indonesia has done, even Cuba has done and it did that because it tried to make sure that the only black people who came into circled white space in cities, were there to work an over form of Race

Segregation. It justified that through a policy of saying – if you were African that you had access to so-called ‘tribal land’, ‘homeland’ lands sometimes called Bantustan land, but the effect of that was that it meant that a deeply illegitimate policy in all sorts of ways but it meant it had to control who came into town.

So Race Segregation was first and foremost about controlling who came into town but it is not true that all African people were kept out of town. In other words, Apartheid divided Africans that some black people can come in and some can’t. Once they came into town, once they were working in town, building the cities, providing the labour force on which the economy thrived, they’ve been internally segregated. So we got two kinds of segregation: a National pattern of segregation and then an Internal pattern of segregation and when we look back what we find, is that we can begin to look at six very important reasons historically which help us understand why today when you go around the South African city, almost everybody you see who is poor, is Black.

Let’s have a look at some of those: the first thing that  apartheid did to those black people who came into town was that it created a system of Forced Removals, it tried to segregate, kept black people away from white people and it did it through a number of different ways: it used public health legislation, it used anti-slum legislation and eventually it resorted to overtly segregationist legislation, ‘you’re black you go’ and it did that over a period of time and there’s a very interesting story which is much more nuanced story then we can still hear about those phases of forced removals.

The impact of being moved in a city is one that impoverishes, so because you destroy economic enterprise as much as everything else, they absolutely decimated the economic vitality of Black communities. So having got a niche a town, having established your somewhat precarious niche you then get moved, all your networks go, all your infrastructure goes, all your knowledge goes. So forced removals have an economic impact in that sense. They also move people who are black to lesser advantageous parts of town.

So you increase the costs for people in particular kinds of ways. So forced removals are very easy to understand as an impoverishing source that took place not in one instant but over a hundred year period, it was a systematic process of the relocation of people in town.

The second thing which apartheid did, once people were in town which makes African people have a much less affluence status today than before was the kind of housing that was provided. Now interestingly, one of the ways that the State controlled who could come into town and who is black, was by saying ‘you can’t come into town unless you are living in state housing or in some form of state recognised housing’ so it might have been private sector housing, a compound perhaps but it was acknowledged by the State, it was regulated by the State but more typically what was happening under Apartheid is that the State itself provided housing and significantly the quality of that housing was very very much lower, the building code literally the building code was different.

Ok, It meant that until the 1980s most houses that Africa almost all houses that African people lived in didn’t have electricity, they may well not have had running water internally.

You think about what that has implications for – whether you can study for school, for what your health opportunities are as well as what you can hand over to your children because the house that you hand-on from generation to generation is with much less money. Another which is an explicitly urban thing is about the kind of work people were allowed to do.

So there was a racial code and again it’s not one racial code, that can sit in a particular point in time. It goes right back to into the early 1910s and 20s when poor white people’s access to it was privileged, they were given jobs when they didn’t have jobs, public works program – what we would call them today, the so-called civilised labour policy where white people were deemed to be civilised and therefore given work.

Later on, African people were restricted to certain kinds of work, low-paid work, work which didn’t require high levels of education and in some cases were actually restricted sometimes by the State and sometimes by organised trade unions, craft unions, white unions who kept African workers out and kept a racial code.

You can never get to be rich in a city if you’re only allowed to do certain jobs and a very very small minority were allowed to become highly educated and become priests or teachers, people who had largely come through mission education.

So what Apartheid did was that it structured not just what jobs you could get, but also what skills you could get and it did that through the control of education.

There’s a whole evolution of policy which gets worked out and has real implications in the urban form and in urban politics and in urban identity, so for example, the Soweto Riots which come through in 1976 which is a fundamental, which lead to the end of, or really so instrumental in the final phase of Apartheid.

The product of mass education because by then, there is the role of the creation of a universal base of education but of a universal very low level base and the assumption there was, if you only educate people in subjects that are not going to give them access to, elite jobs you will continue to keep them in unfair conditions of work.

The history of of a sector like education, of the different ways that craft unions play out in the race-class dynamics of the city, already critical and that literature is absolutely there for those of you who want to go and read that.

We sometimes forget that the cost of reproduction if you’re going to use a theoretical term from Marxist work for African people were very much higher than they were for anybody else.

What am I saying here? –  When you think about what do you have to pay a worker you have to pay a worker enough for them to reproduce themselves. So we talk about cost of reproduction and a big issue here is the question of transportation, because segregated townships were typically put on the periphery of the city, they cost more go to work. But there’s more than that at stake here.

The way that apartheid worked was that it made local authorities very largely responsible for the provision of infrastructure at least in the early phases to the circled African areas. That was done through a highly sophisticated system of taxation.

In the early days what they did was they took, they created a municipal monopoly on beer and said only the State can provide beer. The State taxed that and it used that money to finance African areas. What that meant was that rich people’s taxes, white people’s taxes were not being used to finance poor neighbourhoods. Imagine if you had a poor neighbourhood and we said we’re not gonna take any money from the central area of the city, we just gonna make the poor people pay for their own infrastructure. In fact what we saw was worse than that – because when we start looking in-depth at what those financial records show us about the past, what we discover is actually that poor people’s revenue from the sale of beer was being used to cross-subsidise infrastructure in some white areas. So the normal cross-subsidy that you would expect from commercial interests was not going into the whole city, was certainly not going to poor areas and in some instances in fact, the surplus from poor areas was going in to the infrastructure of rich areas and so that’s a real problem.

The fifth thing that I think, that the history of Apartheid begins to tell us that is this, a very difficult thing to say in a post-apartheid context. Apartheid did not impose on all black people in the same way, in other words, it treated different black people differently. And this is much less well-known than the story that  Apartheid treated everybody who is white well, that we know – it is unambiguous, we’ve seen some of the implications of them after teasing that out. What’s much less well known as I say, is the internal differentiation of the African population.

The whole overarching project was about providing labour, was about providing growth for a growing economy, about delivering to elite interests and if that meant dividing and rooting, keeping some people out completely of cities, allowing some people into cities only as migrant workers, not given full-time permanent status in town and allowing some people in town to have inferior to white but permanent family housing, that’s what the State did. So,if you begin to start looking at within the African community, you’ll see intra-racial discrimination as well as discrimination between races and that’s the stuff which has been much harder to get rid of, because it’s very easy in a process of political transition to go back and say let’s cut out everything that is racist, then we will have an integrated city.

It turns out that racial segregation is embedded in the codes that run the city: the housing codes, the building codes, the opportunities that we’ve seen in those kinds of ways. And then the final thing that I wanted to just point out about what I think history teaches us and this is a very different kind of history, this is not an economic history, it requires a different kind of sensibility, is the stuff about People, stuff about struggle, politics and culture.

And when we begin to look at the narratives of individuals – what we realise is how much so many of them lost individually in making a very active contribution and I was thinking of the people who are of my age and my generation, who gave up on education in order to participate in street politics at the very time that I was training and now benefit from my training both in financial terms and in cultural terms and in who I am. So I think we forget about those dimensions and our parallel, and of course they’re absolutely fundamental to the way that are different communities continue to live in cities today. So go back and read.

South African history is really rich on this – there are fabulous novels, there’s some really good books, there’s some really good synthesis pieces and it’s a rich story and I think what you’ll discover is that it’s not just a South African story because what it tells us is, that patterns of inequality can be uncoupled and decoded and situated in the way that we structure the city and the way that the the city is built its form, the way that it’s implemented. That it helps to know your History.


Sobre Pedro Pereira Leite

Investigador do Centro de Estudos Sociais da Universidade de Coimbra onde desenvolve o projeto de investigação "Heranças Globais: a inclusão dos saberes das comunidades como instrumento de desenvolvimento integrado dos território".(2012-2107) . O projeto tem como objetivo observar a relevâncias no uso da memória social em quatro territórios ligados por processos sociais comuns. A investigação desenvolve-se em Portugal e Espanha, na zona da Fronteira; em Moçambique e no Brasil. (FCT:SHRH/BPD/76601/2011). É diretor de Casa Muss-amb-iki - espaço de Memórias. Intervém no âmbito de pesquisa de redes sociais de memoria.
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