Prof Edgar Pieterse

Edgar Pieterse is holder of the NRF South African Research Chair in Urban Policy. He directs the African Centre for Cities at the University of Cape Town

He is a founder member of Isandla Institute, serves on the Boards of Magnet Theatre, the Sustainability Institute and the Cape Town Partnership; and also serves on the Council of the University of the Western Cape. He is appointed as an extraordinary professor in the School of Public Leadership at Stellenbosch University. He holds a PhD from the London School of Economics, an MA in Development Studies from the Institute of Social Studies (The Hague, The Netherlands) and a BA-Honours from the University of the Western Cape.
Africas urban futures and knowledge imperatives
Africa will only cross the 50% urban tipping point in the early 2030s. However, this belies the fact that the continent is already caught up in the complex dynamics of negotiating a rapid urban transition. At the moment 400 000 Africans live in an urban area (40%), but by 2032 that rate would have doubled to just under 800 000. The scope of this doubling of the urban population in two decades is unprecedented and represents a profound challenge for policy makers and scholars alike. At the moment, urbanism in Africa is dominated by the fact that the majority, namely 62%, live in slum conditions and an even higher proportion of the population rely on informal, irregular and, mostly, very low incomes. The modern edifices of cities considered a norm in most places is consequently the minority condition in most African cities outside of South Africa and swathes of Northern Africa. This condition raises profound questions about what African cities will be like if they will absorb all this growth especially when most national and local governments seem ineffective in both acknowledging, let alone addressing this momentous transition. This keynote explores competing interpretations about how best to understand and characterise the urban transition in various traditions of scholarly work on African cities. Apart from scholarly frameworks, there is an ever-growing corpus of private sector analysis and policy prescription that is becoming increasingly influential. An argument is made that the various established traditions or genres of scholarship and business intelligence reports are partial and therefore not that helpful to both offer a full account of emergent dynamics of urbanism, or suitable to inform the kind of policy questions demanded by the pressures manifested in African cities. This argument will serve as a bridgehead for a perspective on what kind of research and scholarly enterprise is required to decipher and address the future imperatives of Africas cities.