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  • Reply to: The Matric as Metric : Public Positions on Social Justice   3 years 2 months ago

    The current problems with the South African school system are not very much different from those of other developing countries. The capitalist neo-liberal educational paraphernalia revolving around the centres of achievement, progress and consumption have not been able to ameliorate the current social ills in our societies with regard to access, inequality, unemployment and lack creativity and innovation. The system has provided a façade to legitimate hierarchy and the acceptance of the neoliberal ideals by the peasants and the working class as the natural order of things. The system has resulted in a pyramidal societal structure whereby the poor are condemned to the base of the society and those whose values are espoused by the system are elevated to the upper echelons of the society. Despite the repetitive failures of this system to bring transformation with a human face, it has become almost a fetish for even the comprador bourgeoisie have been baptised in the name of these values hence they have turned to manipulating the system in ways that suit their new interests but at the same time providing the basis for its continued existence. The system instead of liberating the people from the clutches of the demands of a capitalist economy, the neo-liberal school system sees to it that the system continues to churn out more certified matriculants thereby creating a reserve army of cheap and flexible labour force. Thus societies being led by the comprador bourgeoisie- most of whom now own the means of production and also control the profitable tender systems cannot be liberated by the current school system which is functional only to the capitalists as the basis for cheap labour to ensure realisation. In steady of the school system ensuring liberation and self-sufficiency among the citizens, the current system is based on the jug and mug relationship which baptises the young people in the name of docility and passivity. The students are made to accept bureaucracy and to stop to think for themselves. Thus the young people are made to consume ideas which have been churned out by others, ideas without any relevance to their lived realities. The system is not interactive, but the students are made to worship their teachers who are the agents of the capitalist system, with them as empty depositories. The system has failed to prepare the young people for real life whereby they could do things for themselves rather than depending on the capitalist economy as labourers for their sustenance. The school system teaches pupils discipline which means taking everything as ‘per book’ whilst any form of creativity or research that does not fit into the prescribed systems is regarded as deviant and the owner has to be excluded. Such a system prepares the pupils for their lives in a capitalist society as uncritical consumers of capitalist production. Thus the school system alienates just as the alienation of labour in a capitalist society as expounded by the Marxists.
    Real societal transformation that is accommodative will not happen as a result of the unending capitalist quest for progress/growth of the economy but as a result of changes or shifts in the ideological material equipment which makes people creative, innovative and confident to make a living by doing things for themselves rather than depending on the capitalistic economic employment capacity whose reality is questionable. Thus the Public Positions Seminar on the merits and demerits of the current school system in South Africa reaffirmed the dysfunctional nature of the current system with its emphasis on credentials and certification as the only way to succeed in life. This belief mythicizes reality and has since been churning out huge numbers of certified matriculates incapable of doing things for themselves and could not be absorbed by the capitalist economy. In most of the cases it has been proven that certification is not a proof of competence. Thus certification will never be a substitute of experience hence Ivan IIIich’s call for a DE schooling society.
    Important note however is the failure of the discussants and current scholarship to acknowledge the ideas of other people. Some of the ideas which were raised have their origin in Ivan IIIich’s compendium that is the DE schooling society of 1971, some of which were later on elaborated by Paulo Freire in his Pedagogy of the Oppressed of 1974. Thus according to IIIich the school system offers a packaged education and awards credentials for successful consumption of the packages. These packages are continually re-written and adjusted but the problems they are supposed to address remain. Thus to IIIich, this system is a commercial activity mirroring the marketing processes of the persuasion industry. Children are promised paradise by the continued consumption of these packages. As a solution to the dysfunctional system, IIIich proposes learning webs were by people with common interests would come together supported by the government and learn by doing things in an interactive way. However, countries differ, human beings are historical and our realities are particular historical conditions. As a country we are supposed to learn from other communities but most importantly from our historical trajectories with development. Our current struggle with ensuring justice is never separate from social economic justice underpinned by ideals of equality and equality of opportunity hence the idea of social levelling. In the equalisation of the conditions of our existence, our schools conditions should take precedence for these have a say on the subjects that are taught and how they are taught and the ways in which they bring about transformation. Communities in other countries have leaned towards solidarity economies with emphasises on the humanness of human beings rather than the unending capitalist quest for competition and progress. Thus the school system has been brought into an ecology that emphasises, inclusivity, communitarianism and community sovereignty rather than the alienating vices of the capitalist school systems. Success in a capitalist school system does not reflect intelligence or hard work but whose values are espoused by the system. Success in a capitalist system is not a result of success within the school system but is a reflection of who owns the means of production and one’s position within such a society. Thus this system has spawned multiple exclusions and only a few from the middle class with an insatiable appetite to consume resulting their conditioning at school is accepted whilst the vast majority are condemned to poverty. These are the few whom we see in places such as Mabonang, Braamfontein, and Newtown in Johannesburg. These are to be protected for their consumption form the basis of capitalist accumulation without which the system cannot survive. Thus an analysis of the working of the current school system outside the capitalist underpinnings will just cloud the realities which we are seeking to comprehend.
    Reforms in South Africa have not brought about the much required transformation for the people can only be liberated with their reflective participation in the act of liberation. They have only been carried out at the level of repackaging the text books by the technocrats. The repackaging has not resulted in any fundamental changes with regard to people’s lives, for the problems they seek to solve are still with us but has ensured high returns to the technocrats. The pupils’ portfolios though a step in the direction, at present are just a miniature symbol of independence but manipulated in various ways for the generation of pass marks in a bid for the 100% pass rate. Critical subjects are no longer deemed so for many are forced to drop them for the schools to guarantee the 100% pass rate. The 100% fetish has impacted negatively on the production quality. There has been a misalignment of the reforms implemented and the diagnosed problems. This is a farce to keep the capitalist machine running. Paulo Freire noted correctly that to affirm that people should be free and yet to do nothing tangible to make this affirmation a reality is a farce. Thus the current school system based on the mug and jug relationship of the teacher and the student will not liberate us from the current predicament. What is required, are the structural changes taking in to consideration that everything is enmeshed in everything else.

  • Reply to: Public Positions : The Right to the City   3 years 4 months ago

    I am in general agreement with the picture that Marie paints of post-apartheid urban policy and planning and its consequences. Much of post-apartheid urban policy – to the extent that there has been one – has resulted in greenfield public and private development and service delivery to under-served areas without confront spatial form. The result of this has been, in many instances, to actually accentuate spatial disparities rather than fundamentally confront them.

    However, I would suggest that beyond these general statements, we need to be conscious of the fact that patterns of post-apartheid urban development vary quite substantially by city. A focus on the shift from “leafy suburbs” to elite “themed estates” might miss the changes that have taken place in the bulk of former minority suburbs in terms of a slow (at least in some cases), but nonetheless steady, change in race profile of residents. Further, at least in Durban, the trend has been for substantial former buffer areas of apartheid planning to be settled informally – with around 1/3 of the 250 odd informal settlements in these areas (some already subjected to in situ upgrades) and around a quarter of informal dwellers living in these areas. In Durban it has tended to be true that this has been at its most noticeable around former Indian residential areas such as Chatsworth, Shallcross and Resevoir Hills. It is also true that substantial portions of these buffer strips coincided with natural barriers to formal development such as river valleys and areas with quasi protected open space and what planners refer to as over-steep land. These continue to be invaded by informal settlers as the Municipality struggles to keep up. The fact that these areas are often traversed by major roads or are also in close proximity to existing or new employment notes makes informal settlement in them all the more desirable.

    In Durban issues related to the Ingonyama Trust are also critical when looking at both existing and future urban development. Some of Durban’s largest townships such as Umlazi, KwaMashu, Ntuzuma and Mpumalanga were formerly part of the KwaZulu-Natal homeland and as such carry the designation of being R293 townships where tenure issues remain caught up in the Ingonyama Trust being the “custodian” of the land. This has substantial consequences on households, but also on the scope for effective planning interventions. Most recently it has been noted that on Durban’s peri-urban periphery areas under traditional authority have witnessed the fastest growth in densities (from a very low base).

    In terms of the impact of the Development Facilitation Act from 1995, in setting up tribunals to determine planning approvals outside the Municipal decision making channels (eventually shown to be unconstitutional), it is undoubtedly true that this promoted sprawl for both low cost housing and elite projects. Although national policy frameworks and Municipal plans might have articulated a need for some measure of spatial justice, it was not possible in a context where interim local government structures competed for development and then the DFA tribunals often rejected Municipal concerns about forms of sprawl.
    The outcomes of this, as Marie suggests, was further aggravated by a desire – certainly at provincial level and also at a national level – to control housing delivery in space through a failure to decentralize. The impacts of this have been accentuated in KZN where the Province has obsessed about rural housing and been somewhat less eager for projects in major urban centres.

    I am somewhat less encouraged by SPLUMA’s reinforcing of the scope for local decision making authority of planning decisions. This is in part because SPLUMA seeks to replicate the tribunal approval system within the Municipal context which could, noting the balance of forces in the development terrain and the growing proximity of the political leadership with private development interests, actually continue to deliver outcomes similar to those of the DFA. As of yet no indication has been received of regulations governing how tribunals will be established and how appeals matters would be dealt with. This must also be seen in the light of attempts to reform the National Environmental Management Act to be more “pro-development” by cutting down on objection periods for developments where EIAs have been done. A number of national ministers have also expressed an eagerness for the Infrastructure Bill to avoid large scale strategic state projects being subjected to EIA and planning delays from local government. More recently it has been proposed that the mining minister be given discretionary powers over water and environmental approvals for mining rights and development applications. These tend to send very mixed signals and we are likely to see the intent of the Constitution being tested again in future.

    Marie, drawing in part on Lefebvre’s work, argues for greater local autonomy and decentralization in the paper. However, the issue of enhanced local autonomy in planning and development matters remains somewhat clouded by other processes. Like Marie, I have been somewhat skeptical of the established “left” critique of decentralization as bringing with it threats of reduced redistribution. However, the South African experience has shown that a national state can be just as easily subjected to influences as a local state can be. In fact if we look at experiences in selected cities in Brazil, Peru and even India, one can see that a local left agenda can be constructed – perhaps with difficulty – in a context where a province/state and federal agenda might be less strident around issues of social justice. This perhaps depends on a much more fluid political culture – or a more highly contested political environment at different scales. Direct elections for mayors in Brazilian cities (as in places such as France) raise the status of city Mayors as important national nodes of political influence. In South Africa, despite the intent of the constitution to deliver us three relatively autonomous but interdependent spheres of government, we have a highly hierarchical political culture where, barring one or two exceptions, mayors in large cities are minor figures in the political structures of the ANC – with only a few serving city mayors having been elected to the ANC NEC in the past two decades and few if any former city mayors having risen to high office in the ANC. The culture of politics – and more especially that of the ANC – reinforces a notion of city political leadership as being directed from above. This means we cannot just rely on policy and legal changes around local autonomy. There is little in the way of local policy risk taking but city leadership on issues such as settlement planning and development. eThekwini political leadership value compliance awards from national local government on housing issues more than praise from local civic groups for local engagement.

    In considering decentralization from the national centre to the local one must also confront the extent to which the local itself has been embroiled in projects to advance certain class interests. The settling in of a political establishment in many cities with very well paid politicians and political appointees has been an important element of how the ruling party has generated some form of hegemony. This has had a side effect of supporting formal and informal coalitions of elites (old and new) in driving municipal agendas towards the embracing of projects which can be highly contradictory in that they carry both redistributive and elite-driven patronage agendas.

    Furthermore, if we take Lefebvre’s views into account we also have to look at within-city decentralization and the scope for forms of citizen-self organization of activities and processes. We do see citizens taking action in our cities – although it is not always welcomed – such as in informal settlement or protests. But the tendency has been for cities to not create decentralized forms of urban management and decision making where some level of co-determination with citizens is cultivated. We have centre-driven consultation processes such as those for IDPs or perhaps for budgets but the do not involved devolved decision making or any meaningful autonomy to areas within cities. Durban has explored Area Based Management – but more in the new public management sense then as a commitment to local level decentralized governance processes. Other cities (and Durban too) have also developed a range of urban improvement or city improvement district models where specialized management systems are put in place to recognize the selected areas as being “special” in one way or another. These might give some interests a greater local say over how an area is managed but they are by no means a solution being offered (or even appropriate) to the bulk of districts or precincts in a city. In fact these arrangements can be seen as lessening the scope for certain urban dwellers having less of a right to the city.

    I would suggest that in thinking about our cities we must gain a better insight of how our politicians at all levels view the city. I have noted, over time, how anti-urban many of our politicians are – granted some are more so than others – but I have rarely seen an elected local, provincial or national politician singing the praises of urban life. You might consider this a mere product of the alienation from urban possibilities under apartheid or under the post-apartheid city arrangements that Marie has characterised. However, I think far to many of our politicians are comfortable with an idea of the city that is constituted of little more than tar roads, basic services, patterns of public housing and shopping malls along with some zones of exception. I do not know how else to phrase this but as a lack of ambition for the urban – not just perhaps in our dry policy documents with their drop down lists of technocrat’s utopian menu (sustainable, equitable ...) – but also critically in our political leaders framing of the commitment to the urban.

  • Reply to: Public Positions : The Right to the City   3 years 4 months ago

    I thoroughly enjoyed the contributions given by Sue Parnell from UCT particularly when dealing with understanding the state’s role in urban planning. The state requires both political and technical muscle in order to resolve issues of sustainable urban development and determining who has the right to the city. For so long the working class has been excluded from using the city in the battle of anti-capitalist expansion as seen by citizens of Abahlali basemjondolo. Parnell provocatively remarked that until there is a single system, instead of a dual system that is conflicted between modernity and tradition, we will never achieve universal rights to the city. The state does not operate on its own in South Africa which makes the question on who has the right to the city a difficult question to tackle. Traditional leadership and other sectors in civil society have a pivotal role to play. The underlying tone of the discussion for me was that there needs to be real politics in play, a situation where social movements and other civil society organisations place greater pressure on government, in order to rectify the glaring disconnection between the local government, traditional leadership and NGOs. This goes back to the point made by Parnell that implicit in the notion of the ‘right to the city’ is an assumption that the state is solely responsible for delivering this right. I think these ties in with a later response given by Marie that greater responsibility needs to be shared amongst social movements, lawyers, and technical people to reverse the planning system of Apartheid and ensure better housing and service delivery. Even though there was much consensus on the disconnection on many levels, the pertinent question remains and that is how will this all be resolved?

    .

  • Reply to: Public Positions : The Right to the City   3 years 4 months ago

    The public positions seminar on urban spatial justice brought out a number of important insights with respect to policy, justice and inclusive development. However, to note is that, ‘designing a dream city is easy, rebuilding a living one takes imagination’ [Jane Jacobs]…The city is not a problem that can be solved. It is the eternal impossible question of how we strangers can live together. Rebuilding a living city – a city which jumbles together multiple and conflicting differences – therefore requires less a utopian plan than a poetics of political imagination (Donald, 1997: 182).Though the seminar critiqued urban spatial injustices in relation to neo-liberalism’s demand to open up new spaces for accumulation and to protect the old spaces to maximise the same, the seminar did not however go beyond these , to look at the more cardinal and critical issues important in the generation of urban spaces-the unfairness involved. The discussion missed the importance of the alliance between bankers, financiers and developers- a critical alliance-a force that shapes the built environment .Even the critical Marxists theorists were unable to perceive the crucial link between urban space generation and the accumulation space. The Marxian theory has a blind spot when it comes to looking at matters of the city, spatial competition and the production of urban space-all reflecting the Poverty of theory. Thus the Marxists have not managed to integrate an understanding of processes of urbanisation and built environment formation into a general theory of and into the laws of the motion of capital. This is despite the fact the all crises in the world 1929, 1973, 1987, 2000 and the recent financial crisis all were rooted in asset accumulation and collapses of the property market. Thus the Marxist theory is content in explaining these crises in terms of tendency of the rate of profit to fall, under consumption and over-accumulation. However, without an understanding of the capital formation and the profit realisation processes now is being spearheaded by neo-liberalism it would be impossible to comprehend the growth of exclusionary cities and of informal settlements. With its bid on opening up new spaces for capital accumulation through new kinds of dispossession such as the privatisation of basic amenities, neo-liberalism has caused many hardships for the poor sending many of them into the informal sector. The growth of informal settlements occurred within the accumulation processes marked concomitantly with the growth of gated communities and expensive waterfront settlements especially in Johannesburg. Again despite the neo-liberal call by De Soto for a city with many small traders, a city that integrates the informal and extra-legal activities into the mainstream the greater neo-liberal forces have devised other means of social exclusion now based on the ability to pay (consume). Thus the growing gentrification currently being witnessed in Johannesburg in such places as Braamfontein, Newtown and Mabonang all spawned exclusion based on the ability to consume. Neo-liberalism is about profit and its designs are for ‘cool cities’ capable of attracting FDI, tourists and the middle class for consumption. As capitalist mode of production, it is associated with the need to accelerate the realisation process and not the need to improve the human condition. Thus artists, the academia and other members of the middle class with the potential to consume have to be ‘protected from’ being disturbed by the poor in these places. These views have blocked the development of compact cities with the capacity of mixed settlements and accommodation spaces promoting social integration. The divisionistic approach to city development has led to a number of protests, even wars worldwide as the poor tried to gain their citizenship and other opportunities by invading the cities. This exemplified by the crisis that ensued following the Indian government’s neo-liberal false solutions to Dharavi informal settlement in Mumbai in 2010.Instead of involving the poor in crafting solutions to urban settlements utopian plans, as the Indian government tried to solve the poor’s access unintentionally furthered their dispossession and the accumulation of capital by the capitalist. However, a realistic approach by the Brazilian government of Dilma Rousseff has greatly improved the conditions of the poor by taking an integrated approach through the involvement of the poor, their representatives, NGOs and the government in working out solutions to the growth of informal settlements in the cities. This approach was able to shift the towns and cities away from urban goals, visions and stratagems of the northward looking and prostrated elite to the far more demanding objectives of achieving inclusive, equitable and sustainable cities. Thus despite the existence of the New national spatial planning legislation of 2013 which seems highly contradictory, as humanity ‘we either uphold through our planning interventions and thinking the Right to Inequality and Wealth’ or ‘the right to freedom from Want/Poverty -to stop civilising, exterminating and bombing the natives; to stop keeping the Poor Poor; and to rethink the status Quo’ (Khan Firoz, 2014)

  • Reply to: Public Positions : The Right to the City   3 years 4 months ago

    The discussion that took place around the Right to the City confirmed that our cities can only truly be changed by confronting the problem of urban exclusion from all of its many angles. Policy prescriptions frequently rest on the illusion that purely technical solutions can help to change our cities for the better, neglecting the persistent political dimensions which relegate the poor to the margins and squalid interstices of our cities. Political engagement is therefore crucial to the success of any efforts to etch the Right to the City on our urban landscapes. But this does not mean that the technical dimensions should be ignored. What emerged clearly in the discussion was the need to combine a multiplicity of perspectives which all too often remain compartmentalised – the political, technical, economic, and legal. An instructive example of the benefits of a more holistic approach can be found in Brazil, where the inscription of the Right to the City into the legal code was achieved thanks to the work of progressive lawyers who, in conjunction with mechanisms for popular participation, attempted to translate political aspirations into technical formulations. The discussion also focused on the potential merits of decentralizing urban planning functions, prompting questions as to whether this devolution of power is possible under the present political and policy context, and, crucially, whether bolstering local government actors is in fact desirable in the first place. Can municipal officials really be trusted to deliver a progressive urban vision? Might traditional leadership present an obstacle to this vision? The debate around the Right to the City prompted difficult questions which cut to the heart of how our entire democracy functions, a debate which urgently needs to be continued with broadened participation.

  • Reply to: Public Positions : The Right to the City   3 years 4 months ago

    Who owns the land in and around cities? It would be fascinating to see a map of property ownership in cities, what parts of the city are in fact public and what are private. What problems come up when the government wants to purchase land for the ‘public good’ in cities? Expropriation is difficult and takes a long time if there is no agreement within government itself on what the public interest is. Huchzermayer made the point in her paper that ‘In the absence of any definition of these interests, economic growth and global competitiveness framed as national or public interest irrespective of the spatial configuration they demand, may continue to trump municipal level plans to redress urban spatial imbalances.’ Even the apartheid government with its profound commitment to spatial segregation had within its different departments, and different parts of the public, conflicting ideas of how to use land for the public interest. I can use an example from my own research. When the Native Affairs Department wanted to buy white-owned farms to extend the rural reserves in a particularly fertile part of the old Northern Transvaal it fought with the Department of Lands and white farmers associations for decades over what the public interest was: good land for Africans in the context of spatial segregation? Or protection of water sources and conservation of mountain slopes? Or allowing white farmers to use the land for commercial farming for which the land was eminently suitable, which would contribute to economic growth? The NAD had the power to expropriate… but only once it was agreed that their proposed use of the land was in the public interest – a question which generated reams of letters and reports over almost a twenty year period. This delayed the essential process at the time of ensuring that Africans being evicted from farms in their thousands had a place to go in the context of a segregated society. The task of spatial integration in cities may be just as difficult, generating as much conflict and bureaucratic inertia. And so far there is not as much political zeal for integrating the poor into cities as there was for segregation during apartheid.

  • Reply to: Public Positions : The Right to the City   3 years 4 months ago

    Interestingly, rather than blaming indolence as many often do, Huchzermeyer highlights the persistent political impetus behind the unintegrated city in South Africa. Here class has been a key spatial cleavage. She argues that provincial authorities overrode municipal spatial planning initiatives as the provinces vied with each other for economic and political prestige. The private sector was given pride of place in a bid to encourage investment. And to win electoral support, provincial authorities rolled out low cost housing on the urban periphery.
    Panellists questioned, however, if municipalities would do a better job if left to their own devices. An argument in favour of local autonomy is that municipalities keep a closer ear to the ground and are thus more responsive to the demands of communities who would otherwise struggle to make their voice heard, such as informal settlement organisations. But whether this is really the case is open to debate, particularly in the absence of solid evidence. Glen Robbins mentioned that in some circles, local autonomy is thought to undermine progressive agendas. The presence of predatory elites who clamber for power at the local level is one inhibiting factor. Audience members suggested that more attention be paid to “secondary” cities booming, for instance, in the Limpopo province, where traditional authorities have tried to exercise influence over the emergent sites of power.
    It was suggested that we move away from a tightly tiered conception of governance. The idea of “multiscalar” governance, currently in vogue, considers networks ranging from neighbourhood to the global level. But one objection from the panel was that very often this meant that interests were aligned on a policy basis to the neglect of stakeholder engagement and relationship building.
    Another concern among many it seemed, was how much of the problem was legal and how much political. Sue Parnell argued that decentralisation often means that the fiscus doesn’t follow project funding, resulting in the increased use of outsourcing by local authorities. She suggested that it is impossible to uncouple planning from finances. Since political priorities determine the allocation of funds, financing is a political question, and it is thus not possible to divorce the technical from the political.
    It also emerged that more attention needed to be paid to the actual conditions and historical trajectories of South African cities, if urban theories are to inform policy. The persistent bifurcation of the city and the countryside is particularly relevant, which means that for many urban dwellers the countryside remains a place of social and cultural life. This is bolstered by a long history of migrant labour. As such, as Parnell suggested, until there is a unitary rather than a dual system there will never be a universal right to the city.