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Gentrification in South Africa’s inner cities: Dignity takings requires restoration

Geci Karuri-Sebina
Frederick Beckley


Urban development in South Africa has generally sustained and reproduced spatially unequal and exclusionary trends and outcomes particularly for the  majority of the poor non-White populace. This article re-examines the urban redevelopment processes and ecosystems of South Africa to identify why  this might be the case. Atuahene’s ‘dignity’ concept and framework is adopted for this inquiry. Her framework posits the combination of systematic  property deprivation, dehumanisation and infantilisation of poor non-White South Africans as evidence to theorise that the urban land situation in post- apartheid South Africa constitutes ‘dignity takings’ (DT) and demands a ‘dignity restoration’ (DR) response. This article explores the applicability and  usefulness of this DT/DR framework in advancing more spatially just and inclusive frameworks and futures for South Africa. It does this by applying the  framework to the dynamics of urban socio-spatial change in post-apartheid South Africa, with a focus on the phenomenon of gentrification and its  exclusionary effects in four urban case vignettes. The lived experiences of these cases are used to demonstrate that there are both material and non- material aspects to unjust urban development, and that both types of deprivation require attention. The article proposes that gentrification can be  viewed as ‘dignity takings’, as it strips residents of their sense of place, ownership, and access to a better quality of life. It is thus argued that policymakers  could consider the DR/DT framework as an urban development lens through which to understand the unsuccessful attempts to merely  accept, resettle, or compensate displaced residents, proposing DR as a means to fully redress – rather than reproduce – the injustices of the past. The  DR/DT framework could contribute towards achieving South Africa’s Integrated Urban Development Framework’s transformation goal of having  development policies and approaches that move towards systematic DR that includes spatial justice, sustainability, efficiency, resilience, and good  administration.

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eISSN: 2415-0495
print ISSN: 1012-280X