Urbanisation is the process in
which the number of people living in cities increases
compared with the number of people living in rural
areas. A country is considered to be urbanised when
over 50% of its population lives in urban places.
Amongst the first countries to become urbanized
were Great Britain and some European countries. Their
urbanisation was relatively slow, allowing
governments time to plan and provide for the needs of
increasing urban populations.
Urbanisation is most rapid in Third World
countries, where the world's largest cities occur.
Mexico City, the world's largest city, has a
population of more than 18 million, estimated to grow
to over 26 million people by the year 2000. Sao
Paulo, Brazil, has more than 16 million people and
will have 24 million in the year 2000.
IN SOME THIRD WORLD COUNTRIES
The rate of urbanisation in South Africa has been
very rapid since the 1950s. Today 57% (or 21 million)
of all South Africans live in towns and cities, an
average level of urbanisation for a Third World
country. By the year 2010, 73% of our population will
be urban - 43,7 million people! Rapid urbanisation
brings with it many problems as it places huge
demands on land, water, housing, transport and
Not all people living in cities enjoy the same
standard of living. Some live in grand houses with
many rooms and plenty of ground, others live in
modest houses on very small pieces of ground. Many
urban people live in closely built shacks made of
packing cases, sheets of plastic and corrugated iron.
Some urban people have a good supply of water and
electricity and the waste from bathrooms and toilets
goes directly into the city's sewers. Squatters,
however, lack these benefits and are forced to use
open drains and pit toilets. These can create health
In South Africa apartheid has made the problems of
urbanisation more complex. For generations,
urbanisation of black people was made difficult by
forcing them to live in areas far from the main
cities. Those areas were known as the Reserves, later
called Bantustans, and then Homelands.
As employment opportunities remained in the
"white" cities, many black people, mainly
men, moved to the cities in search of work, leaving
their families in the "homelands".
Separation of families created many social problems.
In addition, pass laws made it illegal for many black
people to live in the white cities. Their illegal
status made it impossible for them to rent a house so
they often lived in a shack in the backyard of a
With the lifting of racial restrictions on where
people may live and work, many unemployed people in
the homelands migrated to the major South African
cities in search of work, bringing their families
with them. The shortage of accommodation in cities
has forced them to live in shack-towns or squatter
camps on open land.
As migrant workers do not own land they often
settle or squat on vacant land owned by somebody
else. Although squatter settlements are seen to arise
out of desperate need, the landowners are often
unhappy that squatters are living on their land.
Quite often conflicts arise. The state will have to
make provision for future emergency housing for poor
Recent statistics illustrate the problem of rapid
urbanisation facing South Africa. In the early 1980s
there was one formal house for every 3,5 white people
in South Africa, and only 1 formal house for every 43
black people. In 1989 Gauteng (the then PWV region)
contained 412 000 formal houses in black townships,
with 422 000 shacks in their backyards and 635 000
shacks on vacant land. The housing shortage for
blacks outside of the homelands is at least 850 000.
More than 7 million people throughout the country
live in shacks of one kind or another. Of those 2,5
million are on the Witwatersrand.
* The slower urbanisation occurs, the easier it is
to deal with.
* Rapid urbanisation means rapid increases in the
numbers of urban people who need land, housing,
water, electricity, health care, and schooling.
* Urban conflicts will be greatest where
urbanisation is greatest.
* In South Africa the most rapid urbanisation is
occurring around the largest cities: Johannesburg,
Durban, Cape Town, Pretoria, Port Elizabeth,
Pietermaritzburg, East London, Bloemfontein, and the
towns of the Orange Free State Goldfields.
If the problems of urbanisation are not solved
social unrest and environmental pollution will get
SOUTH AFRICAN GEOGRAPHICAL
Vol.71, No.3, 1989, Special Issue entitled URBANISATION
IN THE THIRD WORLD: POLICY PAPERS FOR SOUTH AFRICA.
Available from P.O. Box 128, Wits, 2050, South
URBAN DEBATE 2010 (especially
numbers 1 and 2). Urban Foundation series on policies
for a new urban future. Address below.
THE POOR DIE YOUNG - HOUSING AND HEALTH IN
THIRD WORLD CITIES. J.E. Hardoy (ed), Earthscan, London, 1990.
SQUATTER CITIZEN - LIFE IN THE URBAN THIRD
WORLD. J.E. Hardoy (ed), Earthscan, London,
UPROOTING POVERTY - THE SOUTH AFRICAN
CHALLENGE. F. Wilson and M. Ramphele. David
Philip, Cape Town, 1989.
The Witwatersrand Network for the
Homeless. P.O. Box 2277, Johannesburg, 2000.
The Black Sash Urban Removals and
Homelessness Group. P.O. Box 2827,
Johannesburg, 2000. Tel.011-8348361. Several regional
The Institute for Race Relations.
P.O. Box 31044, Braamfontein, 2017. Tel.011-4033600
The Urban Foundation. PO Box
1198, Johannesburg, 2000. Tel. 011-403 5500.