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Department of Geography


Infrastructure, inequality and the neo-apartheid city

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This seminar series, supported by the Urban Studies Foundation, develops a conceptual analysis of an emerging urban regime – the neo-apartheid city, by analysing the role of infrastructure in facilitating political control through socio-spatial division. The current pandemic has elucidated the urgency of critically re-theorising how urban regimes of separation, based on racial and ethnic discrimination and driven by consumer logic, privatisation and deregulation, intensify and deepen inequalities in urban settings. To understand how COVID-19 effects urban lives, we need to locate, articulate and challenge pre-existing conditions of inequality (visibly manifest in urban infrastructure), which shape (and are shaped by) contemporary political regimes in the city. Our seminar series will discuss and critically analyse an emerging urban regime we identify as the neo-apartheid city.

Workshop 2, 11th November 2021: Citizenship, capital and infrastructure in the neo-apartheid city

This workshop is open for Early Career Researchers who are interested to join the full event only.

The second workshop will analyse infrastructures as socio-technical processes through which the boundaries of citizenship are negotiated. The workshop will explore how infrastructure networks correspond with socio-political hierarchies and represent the political channels between those who govern and the governed. Recognising the contemporary rise of non-state private actors in infrastructure (private companies, entrepre- neurs, residential associations, NGOs), the workshop will explore the role of capital in solidifying and/or challenging exclusion and separation, and the implications for the changing nature of citizenship and the fragmenta- tion of processes, rights and spaces.

For participating in the workshop please register.

09:30 – 09:45 GMT

Welcome and opening remarks

Prof Charlotte Lemanski, Department of Geography, University of Cambridge

Session 1

09:45 – 10:30 GMT

Chair: Dr Gediminas Lesutis

Department of Geography, University of Cambridge

Jochen Monstadt, Professor of Urban Governance, Department of Human Geography and Spatial Planning, Utrecht University.

Coping with Urban and Infrastructural Heterogeneity: Governing energy infrastructures in Dar es Salaam.

Multiple accounts have contributed to a better understanding of the splintered urban geographies and the infrastructural apartheid in many Southern cities shaped by legacies of sociospatial segregation and infrastructural discrimination since colonial times. They demonstrate that post-in- dependence ambitions to modernize, hygienize and order cities through infrastructure networks have often further cemented systems of institutionalised segregation, material divisions and environmental injustice. In Dar es Salaam, known for its splintered and sprawling (sub)urban landscapes as well as rapid and unplanned (sub)urban growth, network expansion has long been confined to areas of the city inhabited by urban elites, while lower income groups remained disconnected from ‘modern’ infrastructure networks. While little effort has been invested in the expansion of sewer networks, and progress in the universalization of networked water supply water has at best been moderate, recent electrification programs have considerably increased grid extensions with physical connectivity rates augmenting to 80% of Dar es Salaam’s households. However, despite considerable success on the way to universalizing physical connectivity to electricity grids, considerable inequalities in energy access and severe environmental challenges remain within and beyond networked energy supply. Based on an analysis of the spatially heterogeneous electricity constellations within the city, the presentation will engage with the urban governance constellations at play that shape and partially consolidate the heterogeneity of Dar es Salaam’s urban energy landscapes. Rather than engaging with infrastructural citizenship, the presentation will reflect on the messy situation for policy-makers, engineers, planners and public utility companies in governing energy systems which are fundamentally hybrid in technical terms, in their organization and design and in their spatiality.

10:30 – 10:45 GMT


Session 2

10:45 – 11:30 GMT

Chair: Dr Jon Philips

Dept of Development Studies, SOAS

Alex Densmore and Hendrik Scholemann, Zonke Energy, South Africa.

Energy For All? A private sector strategy to deliver renewable energy to informal settlements in urban South Africa.

Despite rapid progress in electrification in the early years of democracy, South Africa has struggled to deliver on its promise of access for all. This is due to weak political will, over-emphasis on grid extension, Eskom mismanagement, and rapid urbanization in areas unsuited to electrical infrastructure (e.g. informal settlements). The common strategy for accessing energy in informal settlements is inyokayoka – tapping a publicly accessible source such as a transformer or street light, or by contracting with nearby formal housing dwellers to use their connection (either after a pre-paid meter or by illegally bypassing the meter). In either case, residents pay for energy via one- off and ongoing fees for cable connection and protection (approx. ZAR300/GBP15 pcm). Inyokayoka connections are unreliable (e.g. transformer failure, access disagreements, cable theft, voltage fluctu- ations), seasonal (e.g. connections are especially bad in winter), and dangerous (e.g. faulty wiring and no safety devices). Zonke Energy is a small-scale private firm that has responded to these challenges by offering an affordable service to residents of off-grid informal settlements. We offer households a pre-paid affordable service, with a monthly fee (ZAR150-490) to access renewable energy (rather than to purchase expensive PV systems). Our energy is 100% renewable (using solar towers) and is designed to power essential needs such as lights, communication, entertainment and refrigeration. In our presentation, we reflect on community perceptions of Zonke Energy’s provision, including the limitations of our service (e.g. cooking and refrigeration), and the potential role of the private sector in collaborating with government, civil society, and international partners to broaden energy access.

11:30 – 12:30 GMT


Session 3

12:30 – 13:15 GMT

Chair: Dr Moriel Ram School of Geography,

Politics and Sociology, Newcastle University

Jonathan Rutherford, Senior Urban Researcher, LATTS, Paris.

Big infrastructure bad, small infrastructure good? Struggles over community, energy and resilience in Boston.

Two concurrent infrastructure struggles and responses to grid vulnerability in east Boston, 2019-2020. The local community has been fighting the Eversource utility’s project for a new electrical substation in the area arguing that it is not needed, badly sited and potentially danger- ous – constituting yet another example of the ‘dumping’ of environmentally hazardous and detrimental materials in the area. At the same time, people have largely embraced a local community microgrid project that aims to provide resilient, sustainable and ‘distributed’ access to energy to the local population in emergency and everyday modes but that represents a substantive socio-technical challenge to roll out. These developments are situated within a wider context of Boston climate action, post- Sandy concern for urban resilience and ‘community choice’ energy initiatives which aim to reorganise action and control over energy provision at local/community level. The contribution analyses these intertwined political infrastructure developments through a handful of themes of recent urban debate: the role of grid/off-grid or hybrid infrastructure supply in (re)constituting ‘infrastructural lives’ or ‘lived materiality’, the emergence of community energy and resilience, and the nature and implications of urban material politics as, inter alia, substations, microgrids and feeder lines – what local community activists call “techy, wonky” bits of equipment and infrastructure components – become embroiled in local and extra-local struggles for energy / environmental / community justice and inclusion.

13:15 – 13:30 GMT


Session 4

13:30 – 14:15 GMT

Chair: Dr Frances Brill Girton College and Department of Geography, University of Cambridge

Margot Rubin, Associate Professor, South African Research Chair in Spatial Analysis and City Planning, University of Witwatersrand, South Africa.

PPPs and neo-Apartheid settlements: Mooikloof and megaproject development.

There have been two key currents in urban settings across the Global North and South: the significant concentration of urban capital in infrastructure with increased competition for privileged urban space; and second, the reinforcement of political influence within private spaces and processes. The impacts of which have been many, but predominantly have led to greater enclavisation and secession of relatively higher income earners. In the South African landscape, this has manifest over the last five years in a reconfiguring and redirection of state energy and resources towards the development of megaproject housing developments. These mixed income and mixed use developments (hosting 45,000-60,000 units) in well-located areas are produced through private public partnerships. The state provides bulk infrastructure subsidies and loan guarantees for middle-income ‘gap’ households (ineligible for both public and private housing), while private developers alongside local and international capital finance the developments. Using the case of Mooikloof in the City of Tshwane, the presentation explores how this PPP model raises questions around the use of public funds and the contribution that such settle- ments make to social and spatial transformation, equity and integration. Particularly in South Africa, using state funds to construct enclaves that secede from the urban fabric demonstrates problematic echoes of the apartheid past. In Mooikloof, private and public resources are concentrated into a neo-apartheid site that not only physically segregates minority (non-poor) groups from the rest of the city, but also facilitates political and social disengagement from civic life.

14:15 – 14:30 GMT


Keynote lecture

14:30 – 15:30 GMT

Chair: Prof Charlotte Lemanski

Department of Geography, University of Cambridge

Antina von Schnitzler, associate professor of international affairs, The New School, USA.

Infrastructure as a Political Terrain and the Legacies of the Apartheid City.

What is the relationship between the apartheid city and the neo-apartheid city? How do we think through the material legacies of racist state projects and their re-animation by new logics of governance in the present? This paper will explore these questions in two ways: 1) conceptually by gauging how specific concepts of “politics” may enable or foreclose analyses of infrastructure qua political terrain and 2) empirically, by drawing on archival research and ethnographic fieldwork on the politics of infrastructure in the Johannesburg area. From bus boycotts to struggles around evictions and mass refusals to pay rent or basic services, South African political history is inextricably bound up with infrastructure. This paper examines how this technopolitical history and its material debris may help us formulate an analysis of dividing strategies and their contestations in the neo-apartheid city in the present. I suggest that thinking materially about the legacies of the apartheid city may thus also expand the conceptual and imaginative horizons of how we study political transformation more generally.

For participating in the keynote please register.


15:30 – 16:00 GMT

Prof Jennifer Robinson, Department of Geography, University College London.

Ending and thank you

16:00 GMT

Prof Charlotte Lemanski, Department of Geography, University of Cambridge.