Urbanization Processes in South Africa

Topic: Infrastructure
Words: 1186 Pages: 4


For many centuries, even millennia, Africa has remained a predominantly “rural continent.” True, cities appeared in North Africa a long time ago. It is enough to recall Carthage, the major urban center of the Roman Empire era. But in sub-Saharan Africa, cities emerged in the age of Great Geographical Discoveries, mainly as military strongholds and trading (including slave trading) bases. Even though most of the inhabitants of the African continent lead a rural lifestyle, the rate of urbanization on the continent is about 4% per year. They are the highest in the world and almost twice the global average. Therefore, it is important to understand what types of infrastructure development exist and how urbanization processes are taking place in the countries of South Africa.

Urban Explosion

As in the whole developing world, Africa’s “urban explosion” is characterized by the predominant growth of large cities. Their number increased from 80 in 1960 to 170 in 1980 and furthermore then doubled. The number of towns with a population of 500 thousand to 1 million inhabitants has also increased markedly. Considering the process of “urban explosion” in Africa, it is necessary to consider the fact that the industrial and cultural development of countries, and the deepening of ethnic consolidation processes are connected with cities. However, along with this, the urban environment is accompanied by many negative sensations (Adebayo & Odugbesan, 2021).

This is due to the fact that Africa is not just urbanizing in breadth (and not in-depth, as in developed countries). Thus, the so-called false urbanization prevails, characteristic of those countries and regions where there is virtually no or almost no economic growth.

Rapid Growth

In spite of the rapid growth, large urban areas are unevenly distributed across the continent. Moreover, only a few countries have a high urban population; most of the residents still live in rural areas. The main reasons for the high rates of urbanization in Africa are seen as a result of the overall population growth due to an increase in its well-being, medical and social services. However, the development of the urban population is also due to the migration of the rural population to cities and, in some cases, natural disasters.

The reasons why people leave rural areas can be different – it is a decrease in agricultural productivity, an increase in unemployment, lack of access to necessary funds of material and social infrastructure (Jonah & May, 2020). However, the hopes of migrants for a higher income and, accordingly, a decent standard of living in cities are rarely realized; often, they only join the ranks of the poor population.

Four Basic Requirements

When urbanization has become an all-encompassing phenomenon and often a problem, the role of theoretical concepts and practical recommendations of modern urbanists who develop new models and ways of development of urbanization is being actualized. Certain conditions are necessary for the successful cultural and economic functioning of the city. Thus, scientists identify four basic requirements for generating diversity and active social life in large cities.

As the first condition, it needs mixed streets and districts to ensure the maximum presence of people on the roads at different times. Moreover, a temporary balance in the use of urban space, which can be achieved due to the presence in one area of various institutions, residential buildings, and institutions performing multiple functions. The second condition for urban space development is the need for small blocks to overcome economic and spatial isolation within the city (Nathaniel et al., 2019). The third condition is the need for old buildings, which can provide diversity in the commercial sphere. The latter situation is the most important for the development of the city as a center of creativity and innovation.

American and European Approaches

Despite the common problems of American and English cities, the author conditionally distinguishes American and European approaches in the development of urban theory. This division is initiated primarily by cultural and historical factors. Compared to the American one, the European approach relies on the spiritual past and cultural roots. In the American theories of urbanism development, there is a clear focus on creativity, innovation, and the maintenance of new socio-cultural practices and orders, which is clearly expressed in the theory of the “creative class.” American researchers emphasize the need to maintain a certain level of leisure and entertainment in cities that would satisfy the class needs.

The American approach focuses on attracting the “creative class” to cities and on various quantitative indicators, The European approach focuses on the internal resources of cities and the needs of their residents in designing new forms of public space. Moreover, the European approach draws attention to the internal resources of cities and the needs of their residents in developing new forms of public space.

Development of Agglomerations

There is a widespread opinion about the predominant urbanization of coastal territories, the authors conclude that the creation and development of agglomerations primarily occur in the continent’s interior. However, the gradual formation of the middle class leads to an increase in demand for living in coastal areas. There is also a tendency towards the regionalization of agglomerations, their expansion beyond the borders of countries. Among the cases of territorial development mentioned in the report, Tanzania can be singled out, where the administrative division of territories is based on the Chinese model. According to this model, vast rural areas are under the jurisdiction of the city (Nkalu et al., 2019). The regions of the city’s future expansion are distributed between the rural and urban areas themselves, where the appropriate management policy is carried out, including the construction of infrastructure.

Two Different Approaches

Since not all African countries have access to the Internet and constant water and electricity, infrastructure is developing at different rates, that is why there is an infrastructural inequality. When a country has direct access to digital technologies, the process of urbanization goes much faster. Moreover, the latest technologies are being introduced, and employees worldwide are being attracted. However, such a level requires a lot of effort and costs, therefore.

On the other hand, poor African countries only require the development of available resources and the correct distribution between cities. The main attraction centers are already becoming small and medium-sized cities and their agglomerations, acting as intermediaries between global “urban” and local “rural” territories. Moreover, hundreds of accumulations are located in rural areas that are considered rural, which challenges the generally accepted idea of a mass departure of the population from rural areas. There is also a tendency towards the regionalization of agglomerations, their expansion beyond the borders of countries. An example of such an association is the Ibadan-Lagos-Accra corridor and a large number of border urban agglomerations in West and East Africa.


By way of conclusion, Africa can play a more active role in determining its future by increasing revenues from commodity exports, entering new markets, and using new financial mechanisms. The starting point of any action should be an objective analysis of Africa’s political and economic situation. Thus, Africa needs to rethink its strategies; that is why they are more in line with the Sustainable Development Goals.


Adebayo, T. S., & Odugbesan, J. A. (2021). Modeling CO 2 Emissions in South Africa: Empirical Evidence from ARDL Based Bounds and Wavelet Coherence Techniques. Environmental Science and Pollution Research, 28(8). Web.

Jonah, C. M., & May, J. D. (2020). The Nexus Between Urbanization and Food Insecurity in South Africa: Does the Type of Dwelling Matter? International Journal of Urban Sustainable Development, 12(1), 1-13. Web.

Nathaniel, S., Nwodo, O., Adediran, A., Sharma, G., Shah, M., & Adeleye, N. (2019). Ecological Footprint, Urbanization, and Energy Consumption in South Africa: Including the Excluded. Environmental Science and Pollution Research, 26(26). Web.

Nkalu, C. N., Edeme, R. K., Nchege, J., & Arazu, O. W. (2019). Rural-urban population Growth, Economic Growth and Urban Agglomeration in Sub-Saharan Africa: What does Williamson-Kuznets Hypothesis Say? Journal of Asian and African Studies, 54(8), 1247-1261. Web.

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