Infrastructure, Inequality and the Neo-Apartheid City

Blog Grants Awarded 11th October 2022

This guest post from Dr Mori Ram, Dr Charlotte Lemanski, and Prof Haim Yacobi details some of the activities held and supported by a USF Seminar Series Awards grant during 2021-2022.

The Infrastructure, Inequality and the Neo-Apartheid City seminar series involved four workshops between October 2021 and June 2022. The seminar series developed a conceptual framework of the neo-apartheid city that adopts, and adapts, conventional and historic understandings to identify novel apartheid regimes as they manifest in current urban realities. Our aim was to better understand the emerging regimes of division, separation, and differentiation through their urban formations, both physically and politically. Methodologically, we joined the expanding ‘infrastructure turn’ within urban studies and analysed the connectivity and disruption that infrastructure systems generate. The series comprised four consecutives events that brought together an intersectoral and international community of academics, activists, and practitioners that examined three forms of infrastructure networks: health, energy and mobility to flush out different facets of neo-apartheid urban regimes.

Visualizing location of investments by type of capital and ownership composition (Source: Real Capital Analytics; Taşan-Kok et al., 2021).
Visualizing location of investments by type of capital and ownership composition (Source: Real Capital Analytics; Taşan-Kok et al., 2021).

The first event, Urban Health and the infrastructure of neo-apartheid (October 2021), explored how privatised urban networks operate as a tool of division that also shape cultural stigmas and social identities through the lens of urban health. The workshop primarily established the relationship between the tools used to form a space for apartheid and the impact of neo-liberalism on the reorganisation of apartheid in urban settings. From an architectural perspective, Léopold Lambert uncovered how architecture operates as fundamental tool of apartheid that provides settler colonial regimes the ability to organize bodies in space. Camillo Boano discussed the key dimensions – spatial and political – of apartheid, the creation of segregation and its relative taxonomical epistemological tools. Then, Ola Uduku discussed contemporary healthcare development and urbanisation in West Africa pointing to how healthcare that is free at delivery is inaccessible to the majority of Africans and illustrates a cardinal facet of neo-apartheid, the marketisation of governmental services that effectively renders urban healthcare as segregated in the continent’s cities. Tuna Taşan-Kok reflected on the paradoxes, challenges and inequalities in Amsterdam Metropolitan Region, an urban space that many regard as the ‘perfect’ just city. Discussing the effects of Covid 19, Taşan-Kok delineated the variegated forms of separation and exclusion shaped by private capital sprawling from the core city to the suburban settlements. The workshop concluded with a public keynote by Andy Clarno who tackled the formation of neo-apartheid through the lens of racial capitalism to understand extreme inequality, racialized poverty, and militarized policing at a range of geographic scales – from the urban to the global.The architecture of apartheid

Responding to the need to engage with infrastructural connections between political power, and privatisation the second workshop, Citizenship, capital, and infrastructure in the neo-apartheid city (November 2021) focused on urban infrastructures as socio-technical processes where the boundaries of citizenship are (re)negotiated. Jochen Monstadt discussed energy infrastructures in Dar es Salaam to note how post-independence ambitions to modernize and order cities through infrastructure networks have often further cemented systems of institutionalised segregation. Margot Rubin used the case of Mooikloof in Tshwane, South Africa where private and public resources are concentrated into a neo-apartheid site that not only physically segregates minority groups from the rest of the city, but also facilitates political and social disengagement from civic life. Indeed, mismanagement, and rapid urbanization in areas unsuited to electrical infrastructure augment the political role of NGOs and private companies in tackling lingering and expanding forms of post-apartheid inequalities and neo-apartheid segregation. In their presentation, Alex Densmore and Hendrik Scholemann introduced Zonke Energy, a private firm offering an affordable service to residents of off-grid informal settlements to South Africa’s urban locals. Continuing these themes, Jonathan Rutherford presented two concurrent infrastructure struggles and responses to grid vulnerability in Boston and situated these struggles within wider context of climate action, concern for urban resilience and ‘community choice’ energy initiatives. Antina von Schnitzler delivered the workshop’s keynote and unpacked the relationship between the apartheid and neo-apartheid city, conceptually gauging how specific concepts of “politics” may enable or foreclose analyses of infrastructure qua political terrain by drawing on archival research and ethnographic fieldwork on the politics of infrastructure in the Johannesburg area.

To further explore the fluidic, ever-morphing, facets and properties of neo-apartheid urban regimes via the role of infrastructures, the third workshop Mobility and movement beyond apartheid (December 2021) examined how infrastructure networks of transportation and mobility contribute to the formation of new socio-political separation regimes and determine who can move freely, to where and in what speed and frequency. Stephen Graham added a vertical dimension to the conversation on the politics of infrastructure in urban neo-apartheid by discussing the segregative qualities of raised flyovers, freeways and expressways that create a three-dimensional social secession within and between cities which privilege the mobilities of the privileged. Una McGahern joined in conversation with Diala Isid and George Zeidan to present Right to Movement Palestine, a social running group operating in the fragmented urban space of Palestine-Israel, where running is both a physical exercise and political way to exercise a right to move into and within the neo apartheid city. This tied into the talk of Michele Lancione who offered a radical interpretation of what can be counted as ‘home’ or ‘other’, by engaging with the economy of mobility and immobility that operates through the practices of incarceration, expulsion and bordering. Concluding the event, Nicky Falkof’s keynote looked at the politics of exclusion and inclusion in Melville, one of Johannesburg’s suburbs noted for its (white) middle class population. Falkof documented how Melville’s residents react to the movement of working-class African migrants and homeless persons into their space, and how these reactions self-construct a contested identity of being ‘good’ (in the sense of just, liberal and progressive) that is organised around intense contestations over safety, mobility and belonging.

Shu’fat, Jerusalem. Photo by Davide Locatelli, 2017
Shu’fat, Jerusalem. Photo by Davide Locatelli, 2017

Taken together, the series illustrated how infrastructures (of health, energy, and movement) shape new modes of neo-liberalised segregated environments while redrafting perceptions of citizenship and belonging, and how various forms of mobility facilitate novel forms of urban apartheid. A selected group of the series’ interventions was published as a blog series in the digital magazine of the journal Society and Space.

To facilitate the next stage of our interrogation we held a fourth workshop (June 2022) that revisited the workshop’s main topics and hosted sixteen early career participants from Egypt, Nigeria, South Africa, Israel\Palestine, Turkey, Brazil, Somaliland and the UK who discussed cases from the Global South to further the empirical applicability and theoretical trajectory of neo-apartheid and to outline thematic urgencies and methodological challenges arising from studying various infrastructural networks within the context of apartheid regimes. We are working to publish another series of intervention articles based on the early career workshop as well as an edited volume that will present the various works.

Intervention articles in the journal Society and Space:

The USF grant profile page for Infrastructure, Inequality and the Neo-Apartheid City can be found here.

The USF Seminar Series Awards aim to support the generation of internationally excellent research in all areas of urban studies.The grant funding may be used for research, education, and training events such as seminars, workshops, colloquia, round-tables, public talks, and more. The scheme typically offers up to GBP 20,000 towards proposals, and welcomes applications from scholars, institutions, and venues anywhere worldwide.