Public place making in an apartheid era township in South Africa: civil society action in the absence of the state

Whelan, Deborah (2017) Public place making in an apartheid era township in South Africa: civil society action in the absence of the state. Space, Economy, Society, 2016 . pp. 101-116. ISSN 2353-0987

Full content URL:

Public Place Making Space economy society.pdf
Public Place Making Space economy society.pdf - Whole Document

Item Type:Article
Item Status:Live Archive


South Africa and Poland have travelled similar journeys to attain freedom and democracy. The oppressive regime of apartheid in the former, subjugated people based on race lines, whereas communism ruled similarly suppressing essentially human characteristics such as identity and choice. Both populations, emerging from centuries of domination followed by oppression, had to ‘learn’ the minutae of democracy. Certainly, for South Africans, this was made more difficult by the proportions of those with necessarily changed lifestyles from an essentially rural, preindustrial society, to one of urbanised society with imposed values and cultural systems. Further, the forced relocation of people from rural and marginal areas into specially constructed ‘townships’ is a vital piece of the background to this paper. Both of these changes were made within five years of each other: The success of the Solidarity Strike and the fall of Communism in Poland in 1989, and the transition to a democratically elected government in South Africa in 1994. It was in between these two transitional moments that the Rio Declaration on Environment and Development (UNCEP 1992) was signed, entrenching into late 20th century governance the fundamental potentials of public participation and capacity development (Principles 9 and 10) in the manner by which citizens have a right to determine their living space and their environment. These principles were actively part of the (Non Governmental Organisation) NGO sector working in South Africa during this period (online 1)

Significantly, this paper was initially presented in the Solidarity Museum in Gdansk, Poland; a space embracing the role of the Trade Unions in bringing change to Poland in the 1980s, which at the time for the author served a stark reminder that all is not well in the land of South Africa, nominally the ‘Rainbow Nation’, and that the new democracies of Poland and South Africa now travel significantly divergent routes. It was also presented in the month following the ‘#Rhodesmustfall campaign, aiming at unseating heritage, literally and figuratively, which fundamentally altered the landscape of heritage in South Africa, bringing to the fore its’ dislocated and misunderstood context (Whelan 2015).

Whilst the core of this paper discusses public place making in a modernist, apartheid era ‘township’ fundamentally in a post-apartheid South Africa it focuses on heritage and its visibility or invisibility as the core of the project is a building which embodies white history, both Dutch and English. Like many developing countries a continuous challenge to heritage in South Africa, is infrastructure and development (Whelan 2015). Whilst much of this is ‘developer driven’ aiming at baseline profit, much pressure also comes from the public sector in the guise of provision of services, housing and employment potential. The days of the NGO working with the operational model of capacity building and public participation as entrenched in the Rio Declaration have passed, and, despite the practises being written into the new South African Constitution (1996) as well as governmental legislations, these key components of ‘development’ appear to have largely been abandoned, become vehicles for financial gain, or politicised.

Keywords:civic space, Mpophomeni, community development, township development
Subjects:K Architecture, Building and Planning > K250 Conservation of Buildings
L Social studies > L610 Social and Cultural Anthropology
Divisions:College of Arts > School of Architecture & Design > School of Architecture & Design (Architecture)
ID Code:28931
Deposited On:05 Oct 2017 09:54

Repository Staff Only: item control page