WATCH: How can we transcend slum urbanism in Africa?

‘Africa suffers from the condition of splintered urbanism’

University of Cape Town professor and founding director of the African Centre for Cities, Edgar Pieterse explains the controversial logic of slum urbanism. A logic driven by the privatisation of urban services and infrastructure that creates a sharp divided in society.


Pieterse explains that we need to think carefully about the methods we use in coping with a growing tide of slum urbanism. Over the next fourty years, the world’s slum populations will treble. Africa’s urbanisation period can be charted over 60-100 years and by 2050, 62% of Africa’s population will be urban. The situation today is already critical in Sub-Saharan Africa with 62% of urban dwellers living in slums, this compares with 27% in Latin America & the Caribbean and 43% in Southern Asia.

In spite of high GDP growth on the African continent, sufficient wage-earning jobs remain scarce and therefore people are unable to afford to live in formal housing. They are also unable to pay taxes and therefore public services do not invest sufficiently in public housing. As population and economic growth increases, there is a tendency for cities to under-invest in urban infrastructure. Many cities also fail to police developments and are willing to support inappropriate and damaging investments. Some investment also perpetuates the urban divide as developers build more shopping malls and gated communities.

Africa suffers from the condition of ‘splintered urbanism‘.This encompasses the dynamics between the privatisation of key public services; the poor are excluded from these services as only higher-income groups have access. Therefore under-services areas emerge, what we know as slums. If this approach continues, we face a ‘polycrisis‘ this means water scarcity, energy scarcity, pressure on the availability of food and the scarcity of land. We will also see the continued rise of unemployment, the degradation of eco-system services and continued protests.

Pieterse proposes that we unpack the solutions to slum urbanism by concentrating on governance, economy, spatial form and infrastructure. A sustainable infrastructure focuses on education, health, food, housing, public space, culture and sport. An integrated economy offers formal competitiveness integrated with the informal, livelihoods, social economy and green economy. Finally we need to establish a just spatial form where land markets are more integrated with mixed uses and are more oriented towards the public.

 This lecture is part of UN-Habitat UNI’s ‘Global Urban Lectures‘ – a series of free online lecture packages on sustainable urbanization by the people and partners of UN-Habitat.