Imbalance in South African society driven by spatial inequality

19th September 2017 By: Anine Kilian - Contributing Editor Online

South Africa is fast approaching a perfect inequality rating on the Gini coefficient, University of the Witwatersrand School of Governance head Professor David Everatt said at the ninth Chartered Secretaries Southern Africa Corporate Governance conference, in Johannesburg, on Tuesday.

The Gini coefficient measures the inequality among values of a frequency distribution, such as income.

A Gini coefficient of zero expresses perfect equality, where all values are the same and a Gini coefficient of one expresses maximum inequality among values.

Everatt noted that South Africa was heading towards a score of one, mainly owing to inherited spatial inequality from the apartheid era.

“Gauteng was socially engineered under apartheid and planned across regional scales, not locally city-specific areas. This needs to be confronted and consciously undone to move forward,” he said, adding that urban form was disguising racially divided spatial geography, which has profound, long-lasting effects.

He added that historical strategies to control people along racial lines created distorted settlement geographies. Places like Soweto were purposely placed beyond the mining belt, and Alexandra sprang up across the highway and behind light manufacturing facilities.

Since 1994, he said, the provision of low-income housing has followed developmental patterns prescribed under the apartheid regime – often unstable land adjacent to the mines.

“The spatial separations inherited from apartheid have not been systematically addressed and mines and mine waste still dissect the province, acting as dividing lines for an unequal society divided in space,” he noted.

He added that poor households living on abandoned mine sites were vulnerable to hazards such as mine residue and poisoned aquifers, which led to deformities and various types of cancers.

He stated that apartheid also moved people out of cities and into rural areas, far away from their places of work.

“High-density residential settlements are far away from employment areas, which are dispersed in clusters throughout the region, with large empty buffer zones between settlements,” he said.

Everatt explained that Gauteng was the primary destination for internal migration, as well as cross-border migration.

“The competition for space, jobs, housing, services and schools is intense,” he said.

He pointed out that Gauteng was spread out over a large area and had an extremely large footprint for its population size.

According to the Gauteng City Region Perspective, published in 2016, the Gauteng City Region is the heavily urbanised core of the province, comprising the three metropolitan municipalities and its secondary cities.

Everatt noted that planned mixed density around planned low-cost public transport was one of the ways to address sprawl – “we’re doing it, but only in patches.”

He pointed out that spatial inequalities compounded other inequalities, adding that there was a lack of social capital, especially in the suburbs.

“We’re getting better, but still live apart,” he said.