South Africa’s remarkably peaceful transition to democracy masks acute inequalities, putting into question how far away from the apartheid has the country really gone. It is the second-largest economy in Africa and yet half the population lives below the poverty line. That spatial inequality along racial lines persists in the post-apartheid era is politically disturbing. These contradictions are the breeding ground of a vibrant landscape of social justice initiatives, which is why Cape Town, the legislative capital of the country, is an excellent laboratory to study community-driven initiatives of sustainable urban development.
What does it mean for urban policy and planning that more than half the city is housed in informal settlements and works informally? Traditional urban development paradigms are shattered again and again, but still continue to surface rebranded under apparently innovative rubrics. At the same time, despite the decades of grounded activist scholarship in community development, bottom-up initiatives seem to be relearned from scratch with every project. The South Africa field program seeks to dissolve these contradictions.
This year the South Africa program makes greater emphasis in facilitating a service-learning experience, that makes scholarship and professionalism useful. In the words of community leader Jockin Arputham: “We want you to be behind us so we feel stronger, rather than in front of us because we cannot see forward.” Service-learning is different from community service and also from regular internships because it recognizes community knowledge, involves a rigorous academic component, includes structured reflection, and offers a platform for social engagement.
SDI began organizing pavement dwellers in Mumbai and over time it became the leading global network of organized urban poor working to improve their own neighborhoods. Today, SDI has a presence in more than 30 countries and over 500 cities across the world, helping slum dwellers survey and map their own communities, save collectively, develop upgrading projects, and learn from other slums in their countries and abroad. SDI also has a financial arm, operating under the conviction that the poor themselves can have direct control of capital and negotiate s with governments, international agencies, and banks.
Since 2009, students from across The New School have worked with SDI affiliates in India, Kenya, Namibia, South Africa, Uganda, and Zimbabwe. Some of the most outstanding research by students of the SGPIA MA program was produced during this IFP (Student Awards 2011, 2012, 2015). Several alumni have joined SDI as professional staff.
The ACC is an interdisciplinary research and teaching program housed at the University of Cape Town. Led by Edgar Pieterse, the ACC is convinced that: “rapid and poorly governed urbanization in Africa points to a profound developmental and philosophical crisis. Most scholarship focuses on the development challenges but continues to fail to provide adequate answers or proposal to reverse growing urban inequality, environmental degradation, and social conflicts.” The South Africa field program offers students the possibility to contribute to the construction of theoretical and practical answers relevant to the global South from an African perspective. Previous collaborations have resulted in projects like the “60 Days, 1 City, 11 Maps”, and the City Communities blog.
Other potential partnerships for this year’s IFP could be:
- Human Sciences Research Council
- Development Action Group
- Social Justice Coalition
- Open Streets
- Ndifuna Ukwazi
Contact Information: Maria Carrizosa