About the Author(s)

Stephan de Beer Email
Centre for Contextual Ministry, Faculty of Theology, University of Pretoria, South Africa

Department of Practical Theology, University of Pretoria, Faculty of Theology, University of Pretoria, South Africa


De Beer, S., 2016, ‘The “good city” or “post-colonial catch-basins of violent empire”? A contextual theological appraisal of South Africa’s Integrated Urban Development Framework’, HTS Teologiese Studies/Theological Studies 72(4), a3543. http://dx.doi.org/10.4102/hts.v72i4.3543

Project leader: S.F. de Beer

Project number: 86233689

Description: This research is part of the research project, ‘Social Justice and Reconciliation’, which is directed by Dr Stephan de Beer, Director of the Centre for Contextual Ministry and member of the Department of Practical Theology, Faculty of Theology, University of Pretoria.

Note: This article forms part of the special collection on ‘Engaging development: Contributions to a critical theological and religious debate’ in HTS Teologiese Studies/Theological Studies Volume 72, Issue 4, 2016.

Original Research

The ‘good city’ or ‘post-colonial catch-basins of violent empire’? A contextual theological appraisal of South Africa’s Integrated Urban Development Framework

Stephan de Beer

Received: 06 June 2016; Accepted: 29 Aug. 2016; Published: 22 Nov. 2016

Copyright: © 2016. The Author(s). Licensee: AOSIS.
This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.


The Integrated Urban Development Framework (IUDF) was constructed as a ‘new deal’ for South African cities and towns. It outlines a vision with four overarching goals and eight priorities or policy levers meant to overcome the apartheid legacy through comprehensive spatial restructuring and strategic urban–rural linkages. This article is a contextual theological reflection ‘from below’, reading the IUDF through the lenses of five distinct contours. It asks whether the IUDF has the potential to mediate good cities in which the urban poor and disenfranchised can experience integral liberation as equal citizens, or whether it will perpetuate the city as post-colonial satellite of violent empire. It concludes by proposing five areas for theological and political action: consciousness from below, a new economics, a different kind of politics, socio-spatial transformation, and collaborative knowledge generation.

The question: ‘Good cities’ for all, or ‘post-colonial satellites of violent empire’?

The basic questions underlying this article is this: Can the Integrated Urban Development Framework (IUDF) help mediate good cities, which will be good, equal and just in every sense of the word for every inhabitant of the city but particularly for the city’s most vulnerable, excluded or violated populations (cf. Amin 2006; Graham 2008)? Or will the IUDF mostly serve to legitimise and further perpetuate the South African city as post-colonial catch-basins of violent empire, borrowing from the language used by Sampie Terreblanche (2013)?

This is a contextual theological appraisal of South Africa’s IUDF. It will read the IUDF as a text ‘from below’, considering its implications for the urban poor and its potential to mediate integral liberation or transformation (cf. Gutierrez 1973). I use ‘from below’ here in a similar sense to Mendieta (2001) in his article ‘Invisible cities: a phenomenology of globalisation from below’:

The world does not disclose itself in the same way to all subjects … This is what the ‘below’ in the subtitle of the essay pointed to: the below of the poor and destitute, the below of those who are not seen, and do not register in the radar of social theory. (p. 23)

Mendieta (2001:23), however, also attends to religion in his view from below. Interestingly, and rather radically, he refers to religion as ‘the sigh of the oppressed’ as, in his understanding at least, religion ‘is the form in which the destitute, the most vulnerable in our world, express their critiques, as well as hopes’.

In reading the IUDF as a text, I will use five ‘thematic contours’ proposed by me and Ignatius Swart (2014) for doing urban public theology in South Africa, in an article entitled ‘Towards a fusion of horisons: Thematic contours for an urban public theological praxis-agenda in South Africa’. I will employ these contours to critically engage the IUDP: southern urbanisms and unprecedented urban migration; the right to the city approach; reclaiming the commons; making the good city; and tracing movements of faith and religion in urbanising contexts.

I will venture into radicalising, and problematising, these five categories somewhat, informed by ongoing and more recent engagements with grass-root anger, black pain, deeply entrenched constructs of whiteness, and ongoing embraces of capital as god. I also need to declare upfront that I cannot but read the text through my own lived experience as an urban citizen and resident of the inner city, an urban practitioner seeking for socio-spatial-economic justice in solidarity with vulnerable populations such as the street homeless of the city, and an urban theologian, trying to make sense of faith in a city in which the dictates of capital often mediate dehumanisation of neighbourhoods and people alike.

In conclusion, after offering a critique using the lenses described above, I will propose five areas for theological and political action: a consciousness from below, a new economics, a different kind of politics, radical socio-spatial transformation, and collaborative knowledge generation. This is proposed to help overcome the faith-based absence both not only in the text of the IUDF but also in urban discourse in general.

Post-apartheid South African cities: segregation, re-segregation and violence against the poor

In appraising the IUDF, one’s starting point and own reading of cities, urbanisation and city-making in South Africa today, will obviously determine one’s assessment.

If one starts from the premise of the city as being essentially good, one would probably read the framework to assess if it has the potential to make the city better for everyone, ensuring that what is essentially good gets distributed more fairly to include even the most vulnerable populations of the city, without necessarily having to consider systemic transformation – dismantling even – of the very sources that create inequality and segregation.

If, however, one starts from the premise of the South African city as conceived and developed in and through violence, an appraisal of the framework would want to go much deeper, questioning in how far it contributes to dismantle and undo legacies of the past; whether its proposed strategies and interventions are adequate to restructure ongoing and entrenched ways of power, capital and land, without which systemic socio-economic-political exclusions would not only be perpetuated indefinitely, but deepen to a point of no return, but for a bloody revolution.

In Sampie Terreblanche’s (2014:474) seminal work, Western Empires, he speaks of the 1980s and ‘a comprehensive power shift in domestic and international relations in favour of American global capitalism and an American-led post-colonial, neoliberal empire to the detriment of the Soviet Union and large parts of the Western world’. The purpose and effect of neoliberal globalism was to ‘recolonise’ many countries, ‘turning them into satellites of the American-led neoliberal, post-colonial and capitalist global empire’ (Terreblanche 2014:476).

Terreblanche (2014:476) reflects on the difference in how Western European countries, through a ‘light touch’, and countries in other parts of the world, through aggressive means of financial intimidation and the show of military power, have been co-opted into this post-colonial empire. After independence, most former colonies were not sufficiently viable in terms of infrastructure, financial resources and autonomy which almost led to their immediate ‘recolonisation’ through foreign debt and external financial controls (cf. Terreblanche 2014:482).

Terreblanche (2013), in an interview with Fazila Farouk, puts it like this:

all the colonial colonies that became independent since the Second World War, (have) in fact been recolonised by the American empire. All these colonies have become satellites, dependent satellites, of the American Empire. (n.p)

We cannot consider the South African political economy, completely absorbed into the workings of neoliberal global capitalism, outside of what Terreblanche describes here. It would also be naive to read the IUDF without considering global capitalism and how it affects – and co-opts – South African cities and towns.

Are cities, particularly in the global South and therefore also in South Africa, post-colonial catch-basins of violent empire, ‘consuming … resources and energies forcibly harvested’, to use the words of Jim Perkinson (2001), luring rural and foreign migrants, using and consuming them too, and then leaving them to their own devises?

The postcolonial metropole is the ‘center’ around which multiple ‘peripheries’ are made to dance and die. A city, in this sense, is a largemouth, consuming an ever-growing torrent of resources and energies forcibly harvested from their points of ‘natural’ origin elsewhere. (Perkinson 2001:n.p.)

There are indeed critical voices that suggest the very idea of a city as violent, something to be deconstructed, but not always offering an alternative beyond their own critique. Should urban townships to which millions of black South Africans were assigned and condemned, by law, be erased to make place for something new? Where to go with millions of people who have migrated to cities and seek to make them ‘home’, even against all odds, even if not allowed authentic citizenship as excluded inhabitants of the city?

Or, are real liberating alternatives possible that would create spatial and economic linkages between neglected urban areas and economic hubs, investing in the socio-economic-spatial transformation of poor urban neighbourhoods, townships and informal settlements, in ways that will mark their integral liberation or transformation? Is it possible to deal honestly and robustly with constructs of whiteness and blackness, to unmask the evil collaboration between political power and white but also global capital, all colluding to keep the city as it is? Or is it a battle lost?

South African cities are barometers for the depth, or lack, of national socio-spatial-economic transformation since 1994. They were cities born on the backs of slaves, rural and foreign migrants, and indigenous labourers never owning the fruit of their labour. It was born in structural violence of the worst kind, segregating people not only economically but also socially and spatially.

Although some neighbourhoods experienced radical sociocultural and racial changes after 1994, the majority of urban dwellers in South African cities have not been able to access urban resources and are not participating as citizens in processes of transformational city-making. Since 1994, re-segregation is taking place – racially, economically, socially and spatially – expressed in public and private schools, the proliferation of urban informal settlements on the one hand and gated communities on the other, and the creation of new satellite cities away from the inner core, set up to self-reliant, secure and quintessentially segregated. Re-segregation, racially but also economically, is changing the urban landscape but not necessarily in ways that are good news to the poor. To the contrary, the majority of migrants to the cities of South Africa are poor, hoping that the city will be the land of promise, but upon arrival being desperately marginalised and often violated.

Gentrification of old but potentially trendy neighbourhoods at the expense of the urban poor, the militarisation of neighbourhoods through surveillance cameras and private security, and the criminalisation and violation of the poor, are not only continuing but intensifying as inequalities continue to expand.

The mall and the suburb are the spatial analogues of this video eye that enforces the current regime of what I would call, borrowing a bit from womanist critic bell hooks, ‘the principality of white supremacist capitalist patriarchy’. (Hooks & West 1990: 160; Perkinson 2001:10)

The mall and the suburb have now also invaded the black corporate boardroom as well as the school and the university. The contested city has not clearly emerged from the largely technocratic, sometimes visionary language of the IUDF. It is not a simple challenge of better urban management or moving the building blocks around somewhat to ensure new synergies, new collaborations and new ways of distributing resources. It is really a contest for the very soul of the city. On the one hand there are the suburban fantasies that most aspire to, even those living in what some call ‘hell’, and the suburbs as vestiges and protectors of the new colony. And then there are the post-colonial enclaves of violent empire, consumed and devoured in the interest of political and corporate power, but largely excluded from urban resources and city-making processes.

Somewhere in the middle – in cities, in churches, in universities – are the neutral apathetic masses, who purportedly drive no political agenda; are innocent of any crimes against humanity; and are not complicit in the daily dealing of inequality and death. But, says Perkinson (2001), this is not the truth, reflecting on the US city:

But simply to live in a suburb ‘neutrally’ is merely to participate in – and perpetuate – a quintessential American fiction of innocence. The suburb is not, and has not ever been, a neutral entity. Neither is it innocent. It is, in our time, the new meaning of the city –while the old city centers are increasingly becoming one of the two kinds of periphery that characterises this country (or really, any country today). (p. 9)

The question is whether the IUDF will succeed in keeping our ‘fiction of innocence’ alive, or whether, in interpreting and implementing this framework, city-makers, whoever we are, will be brave enough to unmask the fictional, to tell the truth, and to do what is right, which will require a radical departure from and dismantling of the violent city we find ourselves in today.

Reading the Integrated Urban Development Framework

In this section I read the IUDF, providing an overview of its contents. In the sections that will follow I will read the IUDF in the light of the five thematic contours proposed for doing urban public theology in South Africa (De Beer & Swart 2014), and from the perspective of my own lived experience with city-making processes from below.

Origin, outline and contents of the IUDF

The IUDF was conceptualised in response to the National Development Plan and specifically Chapter 8 which is entitled: ‘Transforming human settlements and the national space economy’ (DCOGTA 2014:9). It is, in essence, a spatial framework that considers both urban and rural in close conjunction with each other:

By 2030 South Africans should observe meaningful and measureable progressin reviving rural areas and in creating more functionally integrated, balancedand vibrant urban settlements. For this to happen the country must: clarifyand relentlessly pursue and national vision for spatial development; sharpen the instruments for achieving this vision; [and] build the requiredcapabilities in the state and among citizens. (DCOGTA 2014:9)

According to the IUDF it ‘marks a new deal for South African cities and towns’ (DCOGTA 2014:9), ‘designed to unlock the development synergy that comes from coordinated investments in people and places. This will result in inclusive, resilient and liveable cities and towns’ (DCOGTA 2014:5–9). The ‘new’ is probably captured in the emphasis on ‘a new approach to urban investment by the developmental state, which in turn guides the private sector and households’ (DCOGTA 2014:9).

The IUDF conceptualised a vision articulated as ‘liveable, safe resource-efficient cities and towns that are socially integrated, economically inclusive and globally competitive, where residents actively participate in urban life’ (DCOGTA 2014:9). It then outlines four overarching goals and eight strategic priorities or policy levers to work towards integrated urban development.

The overarching goals are access (to social and economic services, opportunities and choices), growth (harnessing urban dynamism for inclusive, sustainable economic growth and development), governance (enhancing the capacity of the state and its citizens to work for social integration), and spatial transformation (forging new spatial forms in settlement, transport, social and economic areas) (cf. DCOGTA 2014:9).

These goals informed the development of eight strategic priorities or policy levers, which should be read in combination as the structural levers for enabling transformed cities. The eight priorities or policy levers are (1) integrated spatial planning, (2) integrated transport and mobility, (3) integrated and sustainable human settlements, (4) integrated urban infrastructure, (5) efficient land governance and management, (6) inclusive economic development, (7) empowered active communities and (8) effective urban governance (DCOGTA 2014:10).

After an executive summary and introduction (DCOGTA 2014:8–13) the IUDF contains different sections: South Africa’s Urban Reality (DCOGTA 2014:13–27), The New Deal: An IUDF (DCOGTA 2014:28–31), eight section describing the eight Policy Levers (DCOGTA 2014:32–86) and a Conclusion (DCOGTA 2014:87–88).

South Africa’s urban reality according to the Integrated Urban Development Framework

In sketching South Africa’s urban reality in the background to the framework, emphasis is placed on the Apartheid legacy that shaped South African cities and towns, the rural–urban interdependency, and the strategic importance of urban areas in South Africa.

The Apartheid legacy is particularly evident in existing property markets and land use, unsustainable infrastructure networks and consumption patterns, continued segregated urban settlements, and unequal income levels and access to services (2014:10–11).

Whereas the apartheid legacy cannot be disputed, ongoing and new configurations of property markets, land use values and segregated urban settlements, perpetuated by market forces and one-sided flows of capital, also contribute to prevent more radical urban restructuring:

The extreme difference between spatial areas is not only a legacy of apartheid, but is now also informed by shifting demographics, such as the impact of migration patterns on different towns and cities, as well as the economic and performance profile of a given town, city or rural entity. (DCOGTA 2014:89)

The language used to introduce this section though, is curious. It speak of ‘(d)eep class-based segregation’ that ‘still characterises South African cities and towns. Urban areas contain huge concentrations of poverty and reflect profound spatial inequality’. Although that is true, to de-racialise the nature of segregation and inequality is probably a disingenuous reading of the South African city, also downplaying the ways of white capital so profoundly elaborated on by Terreblanche (2012).

Whereas ‘(t)he rural–urban divide(my italics) is a cause of inequality, a potential source of socio-political instability and an indicator of economic inefficiency’ (DCOGTA 2014:13), it is imperative according to the IUDF to focus on possible ‘linkages … between rural and urban areas’ to ‘reframe how development occurs in these areas’, synergies need to be found ‘between enterprise in urban and rural areas’ and ‘value-chains between various economic sectors’ be developed. Rural and urban development policy frameworks need to be connected while at the same time it cannot be expected of rural areas to overcome rural poverty alone. What needs to be envisaged is access to urban markets and a reverse flow of capital from urban to rural. This is a vital intervention if the city’s large consuming mouth, as Perkinson puts it, is to be contained.

The strategic nature of urban areas in South Africa cannot be over-emphasised. The urban population is growing larger and younger (DCOGTA 2014:14) with increasing pressure on the ‘inner core’ of cities due to access to economic and other opportunity. One cannot wish the reality of cities and urbanisation away, neither does one have to surrender to it uncritically. What is probably required is a very critical engagement with cities and urbanisation, understanding the forces shaping cities, for whose benefit and whose expense, and for citizens’ and faith-based movements to become much more rigorous both in their analysis as well as prophetic resistance of systemic, capital-driven, patriarchal or any other exclusions.

In addition to the challenges presented by the rural–urban divide, the IUDF identifies two other overarching issues (DCOGTA 2014:20–22) namely ‘Disaster Risk Reduction and Climate Change’ as well as ‘Urban Safety’. The lack of proactive strategies and capabilities to implement such strategies to address risk, climate change and violence can bring a city or town to its knees.

Framework for implementing the Integrated Urban Development Framework

The implementation framework is to be found in the identified eight strategic priorities or policy levers, implemented in an interconnected, interdependent way. In eight sections each of the eight policy levers are discussed, in terms of the status quo, specific challenges, short- or medium-term policy priorities and long-term policy priorities as well as identification of key actors in that specific policy area. In terms of identifying key challenges as well as appropriate short-, medium- or long-term policy priorities, the IUDF is probably a commendable document, providing a common framework, language and vision from where to engage cities and towns collectively. Whether it sufficiently engages some of the root causes that will continue to perpetuate spatial and urban–rural disparities, as well as cause hindrances for the successful implementation of this framework, is a different question.

There is a big emphasis on the management of cities in the IUDF while deeper political, ideological and social constructs, the collusion of political power and (white) capital, and the saturation of corruption at all levels of government, preventing effective implementation of a framework such as this, hardly gets attention. The underlying values that will enable or obstruct the successful implementation of this framework and therefore corresponding spatial transformation, densification of cities and proper and just access to urban resources, are not sufficiently reflected on. I will return to this a little later again.

For now it will suffice to single out some of the key considerations of the IUDF, particularly from a contextual theological perspective, reading the IUDF from below, with the poor, and with an emphasis on integral liberation and comprehensive transformation.

The first policy lever is mainly concerned with integrated spatial planning, and curious enough, all the challenges mentioned in this regard have to do with weak intergovernmental alignment, planning coordination, and infrastructure (cf. DCOGTA 2014:34–35).

The policy lever dealing with integrated transport and mobility recognise the lack of clear mandates between different sectors and spheres of government, but also the reality of urban sprawl and historically low levels of investment in transport infrastructure (cf. DCOGTA 2014:40–41).

The third policy lever deals with integrated and sustainable human settlements. In some ways this is at the core of much of the urban crisis today. The ‘escalating demand for serviced shelter’, ‘shortage of well-located public land for housing development’, ‘skewed residential property market’ and ‘low densities in South African cities’, are challenges to be considered in facilitating more integrated and sustainable settlements (cf. DCOGTA 2014:46). Priorities identified to address these crucial concerns include fast-tracking informal settlement upgrading, the regeneration of inner cities, urban densification, more diverse housing options, the devolution of housing functions to local municipalities, the redevelopment of townships and the development of a national policy on inclusionary housing (cf. DCOGTA 2014:47–49).

South African cities will go a long way towards spatial transformation if some of these priorities can indeed be translated into reality. The devolution of housing functions to a local level principally also makes sense, but if that is not accompanied with proper capacity, resourcing and accountabilities, it might do the opposite of what is envisioned. If the City of Tshwane experience is anything to go by, devolution of housing functions without proper capacitation can have disastrous consequences.

The fourth policy lever deals with integrated urban infrastructure (cf. DCOGTA 2014:54–57). Again, main challenges relate not only to fragmented governance, but also to the lack of investment in infrastructure which then places enormous constraints on utilising opportunities for economic growth and development. Important short-, medium- and long-term priorities are identified to address these challenges, among them the very important understanding of using infrastructure investment as a bridge between urban and rural development areas.

Efficient land governance and management is the fifth policy lever. Challenges such as state land disposed at market-related value, insecurity of tenure, and slow land management and planning processes are identified. Priorities include simplified land use planning and management processes, acceleration of land tenure, improving the currently fragmented information on public land, and improved municipal access to state-owned land (cf. DCOGTA 2014:60–65). There are also inherent contradictions in this section: on the one hand the IUDF identifies the challenge of public land in well-located areas being sold at market value instead of being made available for the urban poor to have greater access to the city; but on the other hand it is stressed that local governments need ‘to focus on optimising land value capture’ (cf. DCOGTA 2014:65).

In a very real sense, at least in the City of Tshwane, such a contradictory vision of the use of public land works directly against the bigger vision, amplified repeatedly in the IUDF, of spatial transformation. The poor simply cannot access land or housing in close proximity to economic hubs, as a result of restrictive private land costs, and public land being sold to the highest bidder, instead of used innovatively both as an investment with financial returns but also and primarily as an investment in the urban poor and the eradication of gross inequality.

The sixth policy lever prioritises inclusive economic development (cf. DCOGTA 2014:66–73). Challenges identified include the fact that urban economic development has often been restricted to some areas while other areas have been neglected, the informal sector being ‘dismissed or marginalised’ (DCOGTA 2014:69), and the unique nature of problems faced by different cities or towns. Priorities identified include strengthening the municipal role and capacity in economic development, support for small and medium-sized towns, building partnerships between different stakeholders, supporting community-based enterprises, and adopting more progressive approaches to support the informal economy. Currently informal economic activity is often restricted through undue legislative measures or bye-laws that even criminalise the working poor.

From the perspective of this article, reading the IUDF ‘from below’ the most crucial section deals with policy lever 7 – Empowered active communities (cf. DCOGTA 2014:74–79). My sense is that the IUDF will stand or fall with policy lever 7. This section should be owned and critically fleshed out by faith- and community-based social movements, as well as ordinary citizens or resident organisations. The understanding of this section is that empowered active communities will result in ‘robust and sincere public participation processes’; ‘remarkable innovation and productivity’; and ‘improved lives of people and their physical environment’ (cf. DCOGTA 2014:75).

Challenges identified in this section include the lack of adequate skills in the government and civil society, the lack of co-produced solutions for service delivery problems, the lack of understanding of government structures and operations, and the lack of ways to promote participation. Priorities for intervention include the completion of a national framework for participatory governance, developing civic education and institutional capacity-building models, establishing and maintaining public participation forums at various levels of government, creating mechanisms for the co-production of urban ‘solutions’ at local level and exploring service delivery mechanisms for rendering social services.

Whereas the challenges and priority interventions identified are important, this policy driver also surfaces critical concerns. The language of ‘sincere public participation processes’ raises questions. One would hope that the sincerity is required from all participants, not just levelled at citizens. There are too many examples of public officials or politicians not acting in good faith or democratically, when overseeing public participation processes, Ward Committees or other legislative mechanisms, thereby only exasperating what have become unmanageable levels of frustration among ordinary citizens.

Just as the notion of ‘public participation’ in itself is problematic in its current format, as usually it means processes initiated, driven, and owned by public entities or officials, and on their terms, with ‘participants’ being those members of civil society whose inputs are solicited, without such ‘participants’ determining the terms of engagement, driving, owning or co-owning processes.

An encouraging priority being identified is ‘to explore co-production mechanisms for finding solutions to local government services’ (DCOGTA 2014:78). This holds great potential for collaborative knowledge generation, and, from a research perspective, for trans-disciplinary engagement that will share different kinds of knowledge in innovative and transformative ways with each other:

Government generally, and municipalities in particular, need to rethink their service delivery business models and value chains, in order to work in dynamic ways with citizens and their organisations. In turn, community-based organisations will have to learn what it means to operate social enterprises that contribute to the broader good, but that are also expected to be competent, accountable and part of a larger institutional system. Therefore, public and private stakeholders (from grassroots thinkers to city officials) should be brought together to discover how they can work together, and how top-down and bottom-up planning solutions can complement and enrich each other. This implies collaboration and participation between a variety of people from different backgrounds and levels of expertise. (DCOGTA 2014:78)

The greatest challenge in this regard is not only with unresponsive or threatened government officials, oftentimes blocking civil society initiatives or proposals. The greatest challenge will be for local communities, citizens’ organisations, faith-based groups, and citizens in general, to rise up to the occasion, to embrace their own agency, and assert the local and experiential knowledge they possess, finding creative ways to articulate, galvanise, document and share it. It will be for community- and faith-based groups to prove the IUDF wrong when it says that ‘civil society groups have few practicable proposals about how to “solve” the service delivery crisis’ (DCOGTA 2014:75–76) through identifying strong practices already implemented from below, learning from those, replicating them, and building new and innovative social enterprises that could address the vacuum both in service delivery and in neighbourhood development processes.

This policy lever also offers an opportunity to academics and researchers to commit themselves to an agenda for social transformation through journeying in solidarity with community-based movements in order to help them document knowledge, practices and innovations locally constructed, and to support them with evidence-based research and spaces for critical reflection on the important actions they are already taking. Viewed ‘from below’ a critical priority identified by the IUDF is to complete a national framework for participatory governance explained like this:

The local governance and participatory system needs to be urgently reviewed and brought into line with the NDP’s recommendations to encourage properly funded, citizen-led neighbourhood vision and planning processes, related policies and the IUDF. (DCOGTA 2014:76)

Should such a framework be implemented and funded, are citizens ready to lead neighbourhood vision and planning processes, to own and implement neighbourhood regeneration strategies? ‘From below’ one of the key areas of investment for urbanists, activist academics, urban theologians, civil society leaders and faith- and community-based leaders, would be to position and equip themselves in such a way that local communities can indeed lead the way for their own integral liberation or transformation.

Policy lever 8 deals with effective governance and management. Policy levers 7 and 8 indeed belong together – a strong civil society and effective governance and management in strategic collaboration with each other, could mediate multiple transformations away from current exclusionary and often death-dealing urban practices. Challenges identified in terms of governance and management include the ‘lack of structured and systematic engagement with the city leadership’ by national and provincial governments, although city’s and city regions hold the economy; weak long-term planning and budgeting; appropriate and competent staff; poor oversight and poor municipal audit results; and high debts.

Some of the priority interventions envisaged are to position metropolitan governments in a stronger way, strengthening inter-governmental planning and budgeting processes, improved fiscal management, and strengthening national monitoring of municipal performance.

Let me conclude my initial reading of the IUDF. Three of the priorities or policy levers deal overtly with the spatial arrangements of South African cities and towns, namely, (1) integrated spatial planning, (3) integrated and sustainable human settlements, and (5) efficient land governance and management, are all aimed at spatial restructuring.

In the Conclusion to the IUDF (DCOGTA 2014) this is indeed emphasised:

Our understanding of the legacies of poverty and inequality left by apartheid provides a unique cause for a spatial transformation agenda that is all-encompassing – that is across towns, villages, cities and regions. In this regard the IUDF has been substantively informed by the NDP in its calls for spatial redress, improved spatial efficiencies and social inclusion. (p. 87)

But, and the IUDF states that, it is in local municipalities – cities, towns and rural communities, and in the flows between the urban and the rural – that spatial restructuring needs to start addressing ongoing patterns of racial and economic segregation as well as socio-economic inequality. The question remains whether local municipalities have both the political and moral will and vision, as well as the appropriate skills, to mediate such spatial transformations, on the one hand, and on the other hand, whether the forces of neoliberal capital can be outwitted to achieve new forms of urbanity spatially embodied.

Retrieving five contours as sources for reading the Integrated Urban Development Framework

In this section I used the five proposed contours for an urban public theological praxis-agenda, developed by myself and Ignatius Swart (2014), as lenses through which to reflect on the IUDF. Southern urbanisms and unprecedented urban migration. In response to unprecedented migration into cities of the global south, southern urbanisms has become a new intellectual focus serious about finding and constructing epistemological practices that will engage these challenges appropriately:

Cities in the global South experience unprecedented in-migration, oftenmarked by informality and attempts by scholars and voices to the left, more generally speaking, to live down the consequences of the colony while resisting neo-colonial and neo-liberal forces. (De Beer & Swart 2014)

Someone like Edgar Pieterse (2014) from the African Centre for Cities in Cape Town is a leading South African voice in this regard. He also happened to have been the chairperson of the ‘expert panel’ authoring the IUDF. The way I read Pieterse, a very central consideration of engagement in southern urbanisms is the epistemological question, dealing with the politics of knowledge production in the global South, including questions such as the methods, purposes and participants in constructing knowledge in, with and for the global South (cf. De Beer & Swart 2014; Pieterse 2014:1, 19–20).

In a context of increasing contestations, collaborative knowledge generation might be the only way to construct radically new futures, without excluding key participants and invaluable knowledge in the process. Pieterse presented a visionary agenda in this regard in a paper read in 2014. Building on the growing acknowledgement in scholarly work of how diverse local actors – ranging from ordinary people to civil society movements – use their agency to shape the city in both formal and informal way, Pieterse speaks of the importance of the co-production of knowledge and advocates the idea of Citizens’ Academies in this regard (Pieterse 2014:16–22).

Citizens’ academies are located in civil society spaces, gathering a range of role players including citizens, activists, government officials and others, as spaces of practical and collaborative learning, action and reflection. Similarly, Pieterse speaks of such collaborative engagements to ideally be constructed at four levels: ‘laboratories’ at the city level in which community practitioners, city officials and academic researchers could deal with the city’s most urgent questions together (Pieterse 2014:20); independent knowledge institutions at the level of city regions, to ’systematise the collection of data and various representations of urban patterns and trends’ (Pieterse 2014:20–21); ‘urban forums’ and ‘scholarship’ at national level fostering collaboration between government, urbanists, social movements and citizens that could inform national policy and priorities (cf. Pieterse 2014:21–22); and lastly, a continental level, ‘platforms’ that will allow scholars and practitioners to engage with each other across the continent in collaborative ways (Pieterse 2014:22).

Considering the political importance and liberating potentials of co-producing knowledge in cities, involving the broadest range of role players and specifically including those who are particularly vulnerable and their lived experiences and particular knowledge, in conceptualising their own urban futures – such as informal traders or informal dwellers, street homeless people, vulnerable children, the elderly poor, people living with chronic psycho-social illnesses – brings me to my first point of critique of the IUDF.

I have not been able to trace any evidence of such collaborative engagements giving birth to what is a crucial framework for South African cities and towns going forward. If the knowledge embedded in the IUDF is not informed by such broad engagement with different and other forms of knowledge, it is a framework that will every time be found wanting in the face of existential realities. What were the processes of retrieving different kinds of knowledge in constructing a framework that could ensure deep ownership at all levels of society, from the onset? Apart from academics, government officials and politicians, and perhaps even private sector, how were citizens, citizens’ or social movements, the non-profit sector and the faith-based sector involved in contributing knowledge towards the framework, if at all?

Similarly, the visionary agenda spelled out by Pieterse for collaborative knowledge production is not made visible or concrete enough in this framework. Probably the initiative for the creation of Citizens’ Academies, as well as the four levels of collaborative engagement as proposed by Pieterse – laboratories, independent knowledge institutions, urban forums and scholarship, and platforms for continental engagement – should come from within civil society or the academy, and particularly from activist scholars. However, a framework supposedly providing leadership for our urban futures, could have done well to at least propose political support, incentives and the investment of resources for such initiatives undertaken at local, regional or national level.

It would have been extremely helpful if the IUDF required such collaborative models of engagement as a priority for every urban area, on the one hand to support implementation and engage in ongoing critical reflection on the framework, and on the other hand as a collaborative space for gathering and disseminating knowledge on processes, practices and interventions unfolding as a result of implementing the framework.

Right to the city approach

The second contour from which I engage the IUDF is the ‘right to the city’ approach that seeks to foster an urban discourse ‘from below’. ‘Right to the city’ was first used by Henri Lefebvre in response to the cities of France and was an outcry against what he saw as ‘the commodification and privatisation of urban space’ (Görgens& Van Donk 2012:3). David Harvey (2012) developed the discourse of ‘right to the city’ conceptually further in different writings but especially in his work Rebel cities: from the right to the city to the urban revolution, in which he traces the important work of social movements across the world, committed to deal with issues of homelessness, landlessness, gentrification and criminalisation of the poor.

Harvey (2012) concludes that:

… the idea of the right to the city does not arise primarily out of various intellectual fascinations and fads … It primarily rises up from the streets, out from the neighbourhoods, as a cry for help and sustenance by oppressed people’s in desperate times. (p. xiii)

The ‘right to the city’ approach is not a passing fad but a growing cry. It asks this fundamental question, which is a radical one: whose city is it? In trying to respond to this question, the current violent nature of the city’s exclusions will be made visible. Mendieta (2001:21) speaks of it as addressing ‘the rampant and rapacious consumerism of cities in general’, devouring both rural resources and the urban and rural poor. It is a question that seeks to place those currently and historically excluded at the core of the city’s political and moral agenda.

In the words of Lefebvre (1996:150), it is a call for ‘a new humanism, a new praxis’ in which excluded and marginalised inhabitants of the city would be allowed ‘to participate in the use and production of urban space’ (Görgens & Van Donk 2012:3). Social movements such as Abahlali baseMjondolo and others live such a new praxis – or a living politics – in advocating in bold and articulate ways for the right of landless people to be fully integrated into the city as full citizens (Zikode 2007). Nigel Gibson (2011:706–707) thinks of it as a ‘Fanonian shift where the geography of experience becomes the geography of reason’.

Mendieta (2001) says:

It is simply not the case that different actors enter the territory of the global city on the same level. In fact, it is a territory that is already organised in such a way as to preclude certain agents from confronting, from elaborating their rights to the city with the same level of force and efficacy that transnationals enact and enforce their claims on urban space. (p. 11)

He raises this critical question, and in my mind the IUDF does not provide answers to it:

What new forms of legitimacy and politics can we appeal to, or begin to configure, when urban dwellers find themselves historically condemned to always stand in a substantively adverse situation of economic, political, and legal power vis-a-vis the substantively effective legal, financial and political forces of globalising finance capital? (Mendieta 2011:11)

Mendieta then suggests the right to the city as the politics to be embraced ‘from the standpoint of those who have been historically excluded from exercising their rights to their cities?’ I wonder whether the generic objectives that the IUDF spells out will be concretised in the absence of appropriate epistemologies or methodologies that can foster collaborative and critical actions from below.

The language and proposals of the IUDF, although often extremely important and addressing serious gaps and challenges in current urban discourses, management or development, seems to be more managerialist than political in opening up just spaces for disenfranchised populations. It does not indicate how it will resist the overpowering influence of capital and markets in continuously shaping urban socio-spatial-economic inequalities, and, thereby, exclude the masses from participating in just and humane ways as urban citizens and agents.

Reclaiming the commons

The ‘tragedy of the commons’ was a phrase coined by Garrett Hardin (1968) and ‘suggests that over-consumption by the few – of environmental and material resources – is depleting common resources in ways that are fundamentally unsustainable’ (De Beer & Swart 2014). Originally considered in relation to environmental resources, people like Harvey apply it to cities and urbanisation. Harvey (2012:80) holds that ‘(c)apitalist urbanisation perpetually tends to destroy the city as a social, political and liveable commons’. This is evident in privatisation of land and urban resources, the sale of public land to the highest bidder, gentrification of depressed urban neighbourhoods and often the corresponding displacement of the poor, the depletion of natural resources when it stands in the way of developers’ agendas, and the ways in which the poor are colonised over and over again, effectively displaced from a commons that seized to exist, in order to help maintain the city of capital as it is.

Scholars such as Ostrom (1990) and Cornell (2014) do not remain with an analysis only of a depleted commons but make proposals for reclaiming the commons. Whereas Ostrom (1990) explores alternatives to privatisation through models of self-organisation and self-governance, Cornell (2014:10) goes even further, being attracted to the ideas of S’bu Zikode and Abahlalibase Mjondolo, seeking to practice a ‘living communism’, and proposing it as an alternative to ‘socialism as traditionally understood through state ownership’. To her a central imperative in reclaiming the commons would be ‘the effort to maintain constituent power in the hands of the people, so that new forms of organisation are formed, both to prevent resources to be taken away from the people and to redistribute them’.

Reading the IUDF through this contour, the question to be asked is whether it has the potency to facilitate a radical reclamation of the commons, as it does not in any way suggest what Ostrom, and in a more radical form Cornell or Zikode speak of, namely radically innovative models of self-organising and self-governance marked by a redistribution of both power and resources. Although it emphasised citizen-led neighbourhood planning and development, the strongest emphasis remains on state-led urban development and a huge reliance on certain forms of capital.

Mendieta (2001:21) cautions about a naive politics of inclusion, however, that imagines the equal participation and sharing in the world’s resources by everyone, simply stating that it is an unsustainable dream, or, as a housing activist in a class of mine said recently, would mean ‘the end of the world’. To him, an agenda that would be more realistic, just and sustainable in terms of the resources of the ‘commons’, would be a much more radical agenda:

The agenda should not be one of inclusion, but of dismantling the system that occasioned in the first place the exclusions we benefited and continue to benefit from. (Mendieta 2001:21)

What the IUDF and most other policies for that matter fail to do is to address the societal culture that perpetuates socio-spatial exclusions and that would continue to do so in the absence of a new moral imagination. Mendieta (2001) bravely suggests that one ought to think of ‘an urban culture of frugality’. He resorts to spiritual, or theological, language when he says:

The challenge is how to translate the religious message and teaching of poverty as a holy way, as a holy calling, into a secular value, a secular calling. Another way of putting it would be, how do we translate the visions of the desert fathers, St Francis of Assisi, Mohandas Gandhi, into an urban vision for a spiritually starving youth. Or, alternatively, if we think of what Arnold Toynbee and Eric Hobsbawn said about the 20th century, namely that its greatest achievement was the expansion of the middle class, then the goal for the 21st century should be the expansion of a globalised ‘living level class’. In other words, we have to develop a culture for which the greatest achievement is not that everyone else will live like us, but that we will live at the level that allows the most people to share in the most fundamental goods. (p. 21)

Reclaiming the commons then, if we take the caution of Mendieta seriously, requires something much more radical than a vision or politics of inclusion whereby everybody chases the dream of middle-class luxury. It is instead the twofold process of dismantling the current system bit by bit which depletes the commons in the interest of an elite few, while at the same time working aggressively towards fostering a new culture from below, a daring moral vision, of frugality and radical sharing. That is what reclaiming the commons is about. And it is such a radical vision of dismantling the current system and building a new urban culture that are absent in the IUDF.

Making the good city

The fourth contour through which I read the IUDF is through the language and vision of the ‘good city’, as developed by scholars such as geographer Ash Amin and theologian Elaine Graham.

Amin (2006:1010–1011), in considering the possibility of the ‘good city’, departs from the reality of our ‘capitalist entrapment’ and from a rather pessimistic assertion that for the majority of urban dwellers the city is ‘polluted, unhealthy, tiring, overwhelming, confusing … alienating’ (Amin 2006: 1011). But then he speaks of the necessity for many practices of ‘transformative intervention’, the possibility for millions of dispossessed, dislocated and illegal people stripped of citizenship to acquire some political capital (Amin 2006:1012), the possibility of ‘an ever-widening habit of solidarity … built around different dimensions of the urban common weal … towards outcomes that benefit the more rather than the few’ (Amin 2006:1012).

His idea of a good city therefore combines a sober sense of realism, about current conditions and our entrapment, with a stubborn insistence on the possibility of human agency and the emancipatory potential of the city, to not only imagine but also construct alternative possibilities.

Is Amin’s good city, from the perspective of the poor, only about improving poverty conditions, without fundamentally restructuring the way power works; the way the distribution of leadership, land and resources work; thereby plastering over death-dealing cracks? Or, can imagining the ‘good city’ be integrated as part of a more radical, liberationist agenda? It seems to me that Amin also seeks to negotiate these tensions in his own reflections, expressing a ‘hope in the not-yet’ (Amin 2006; De Beer & Swart 2014).

In other words, can we indeed imagine a city redeemed – delivered from its colonial and apartheid constructs and re-birthed into a radically inclusive, re-membered organism; fostering multiple urban solidarities in which all inhabitants participate and share fairly, both in the land and resources of the city, but also in the ownership and governance thereof; and fostering reconstructive linkages between urban and rural, reconnecting humanity and the earth, on a daily basis, through multiple transformative interventions?

The IUDF mostly uses technocratic language befitting managerialist approaches to urban transformation. Whether that is adequate in a society entrapped in value systems that sustain inequalities, is the big question. In the language of people such as Amin and Graham the possibility of ‘good cities’ is considered not firstly in managerialist or technocratic terms, but in terms of ‘an ever-widening habit of solidarity’ (Amin 2006:1012), building ‘political capital’ (Amin 2006:1012) and … Graham (2008).

The vision of the good city is not about whitewashing urban fault lines or cracks in the dominant narrative or normalising what is abnormal. It could be appropriated by some for that purpose. I would like to consider the good city as part of a more prophetic agenda imaging a radically different urban form to what we have today. It is only when the silenced voices, those currently excluded through informality, those deemed the living dead, come to life, and assert their own agency as full participants in making and owning the city, that the city can indeed be good – inclusive, free, accessible, connected, cohesive and sustainable – for all of its inhabitants.

Movements of faith and religion in urbanising contexts

The fifth contour through which I read the IUDF, was the presence of movements of faith and religion in urbanising contexts, in this case particularly South African urban contexts. De Beer and Swart (2014) indicated elsewhere how theology itself has given little attention to movements or actors of faith and religion in urban contexts in South African and Africa. However, we indicated how scholars from other disciplines started to show a keen interest in the role that faith and religion play in the South African and African context, realising that their role can no longer be discarded in responsible urban scholarship.

To summarise my argument in this regard, I noted socio-empirical evidence of ‘less desirable … expressions of faith and religion’ and ‘less promising prospects of religion and actors of faith becoming forces of progressive social change (cf. Rakodi 2014; Winkler 2008a, 2008b)’ (De Beer & Swart 2014). At the same time, various scholarly contributions trace ways in which urban space is occupied by actors of faith (cf. Bernstein & Rule 2010; Rakodi 2014; Winkler 2008a, 2008b); how membership to religious groups tend to be the most common urban affiliation (Rakodi 2014:82); how actors of faith shape and contribute to urban life particularly in situations of distress (cf. Kuljian 2013; Rakodi 2014); how some actors of faith shape urban political life (Rakodi 2014:96–97); and how, in particular among Pentecostal churches one finds an emerging ‘entrepreneurial energy’ (Bernstein & Rule 2010:123). Rakodi (2014:102) in particular laments the gaps in knowledge regarding the role of religious beliefs, actors and movements in contributing to urban well-being, inclusion, exclusion, or urban change in general.

In many South African urban communities, churches or faith-based organisations represent among the only stable institutional presence, often holding very fragile places together. The collective contribution of such communities in terms of human resources, social spending, availing of facilities, and social and moral leadership cannot easily be quantified. This potential asset in galvanising the processes around the liberation, regeneration and transformation of depressed or excluded urban neighbourhood that religious communities can be, has not been accounted for, neither at all theologically in South Africa, nor in government policy in general, or in the IUDF in particular.

Not only could religious movements therefore be understood as possible assets contributing to the well-being of urban areas, or, sometimes, perpetuating the status quo of division and fracture, neither being adequately accounted for in a document such as the IUDF, but in as far as some faith-based or religious movements indeed represent the ‘sigh of the oppressed’ (Mendieta 2001), they also potentially become a voice of prophetic resistance and deconstruction:

… if we want to trace the emergent cultures of those ‘below’, then we better look at religious movements. In what ways are the religious language of the oppressed and disenfranchised of the invisible cities of globalisation critiques and resistances to globalisation? (p. 23)

Similarly we can ask, in what ways are the religious languages of the oppressed and disenfranchised of South Africa’s ‘invisible cities’ critiques and resistances to the urbanisation of injustice, the globalisation of capital, and the violent colonisation of the poor?

The Integrated Urban Development Framework and the urban (dis)engagement of the church and theology

This is a contextual theological reflection and its interest is both the framework designed to conceptualise and imagine South Africa’s urban futures, but also, how the church and theology, specifically, or faith and religion in a broader sense, (dis)engage South African cities, towns and the discourses shaping cities today.

My first concern is the absence of faith or religion from the IUDF. The IUDF does not mention faith or religion once in describing South African cities today, or in outlining priorities and policy levers to shape our urban futures. Partly it could be because of the absence of church, theology, faith and religion from the urban public sphere. On the other hand it could also reflect what ‘Faithful cities’ speaks of as ‘religious illiteracy’: the lack of awareness among policy-makers or public officials of the important role played by faith and religion in urban communities, or, the gaps in knowledge about the role of religion and faith in urban communities, as Rakodi (2014:102) describes it.

Another concern is more self-reflecting, recognising the lack of engagement, or appropriate engagement, from faith and religious communities, the church or theology, with urban issues, and with the discourses shaping the cities in which churches find themselves (cf. Swart & De Beer 2014). In terms of an important framework such as the IUDF charting South African urban futures, one would have expected that theologians, churches and religious leaders would have made public submissions to help shape the discourse. I am not aware of any such engagements. There is still space for church and theology to create spaces in which to reflect critically and constructively, both on the IUDF as a policy framework – its strengths, weaknesses, or conceptual gaps; but also on the church’s possible participation as an actor in contributing to address some of the priorities identified in the IUDF.

A contextual urban theology would participate in processes that engage the IUDF, always ‘from below’, considering the IUDF in relation to the urban poor and vulnerable, critiquing it from that perspective, and, if possible, discerning how it could embody some of the priorities charted by the IUDF in its own life together, without legitimising the complete framework in areas where it warrants prophetic criticism. And yet, it is precisely the lack of a coherent urban public theology or robust urban prophetic engagement from below that leaves faith communities outside critical public engagement with frameworks such as the IUDF.

Both church and state fail dismally to invite the voices, knowledge and wisdom of poor and vulnerable urban dwellers consistently and sincerely to tables of engagement. This is therefore an epistemological concern. The IUDF speaks of ‘sincere public participation’ however the process of arriving at the IUDF framework does not indicate proper and systematic engagements ‘from below’, either from the urban poor or those movements or institutions daily struggling alongside the poor. An appropriate theological engagement with this framework will be to critique it from the perspective of (1) how it was conceptualised, with whom and in whose primary interest, (2) how it indeed becomes ‘a new deal’, as it presents itself, or ‘good news’, in theological terms, to those currently finding themselves excluded and exploited on the urban margins, and (3) how it would mediate ways out of captivity to ‘violent empire’ and into the ‘good city’ for all of its inhabitants. I do not encounter the voices of ‘the poor’ and ‘the other’ in the framework in an identifiable way.

I therefore sense that the IUDF lacks a clear enough option for the poor. Maybe because the language and approach of the framework is more managerialist – even if it meant to present priorities that would integrate the urban poor and the disenfranchised – it fails to articulate, in my mind at least, the centrality of the poor and a vision of a city ‘owned’ by all its inhabitants. In a similar way very few churches, even the churches of the poor existing in urban informal settlements or poor neighbourhoods, seldom practice an option for the poor, or then, an option for themselves, having been made into subjects of ‘violent empire’.

The IUDF does not speak in clear or bold enough terms about the ways in which capital flows and market values determine urban futures, and does not convince that identified priorities would stem that powerful tide, resist it, or overturn it. Such failure to reflect properly on the macro-economic systems that shape the South African political economy and therefore local urban economies, leaves me thinking that the IUDF probably lacks the potency to help reclaim the commons. Without a more radical societal vision, broadly owned by public, private and citizen sectors, stimulated repeatedly by different voices and institutions, irrupting from below and articulated from above – a moral vision of frugality and radical sharing – the vision and priorities expressed in the IUDF will be obstructed around every turn.

Depending on whose reading of the city, the IUDF might usher in the ‘good city’ in the sense of a better city than the one we now have. But, and that is my next concern, if we depart from a reading of the city as birthed in violence and reborn as a post-colonial satellite of violent empire, then the IUDF lacks a vision radical enough to dismantle systemic constructs perpetuating violent exclusions. One can read or reinterpret the ‘good city’ more radically in terms of building political capital from below, and fostering ‘an ever-widening habit of solidarity’ (Amin 2006:1012), particularly with those who are the ‘living dead’ relegated to the urban fringes. Such a vision practised and embodied ‘from below’, working within the broad ambits of the IUDF, could support the implementation of such a framework at the very least in the right direction, while simultaneously radicalising its interpretation in the interests of those who currently belong to the sub-city.

A contextual theological vision of the city will dream of integral liberation and radical transformation, dismantling and remaking in rather complete ways. Such a vision will require a spirituality of humility and mutuality, expressed in practices and solidarities of humanisation wherever human dignity is violated, an economics of frugality and radical sharing, and a politics of agency and radical inclusion. Anything less would still belong to the ambit of death.

It reminds me of Linthicum’s critique (1991:52–60) of a city marked by a religion of triumphalism and control, an economics of privilege and exploitation and a politics of oppression, collectively colluding to keep violent empire in place at the expense of exploited and oppressed subjects. Linthicum (1991:47–51) then imagines a religion of relationship, an economics of stewardship and a politics of justice.

Any policy framework or strategy document, however good it is, if failing to capture the hearts of people, and in this case, ensure that the ‘new deal’ arises from a broad-based shared vision carried by shared values, might not be translated into reality. This is my greatest concern with the IUDF. In some ways, it is a remarkably thorough framework that can mediate urban transformations if consequently implemented in the interconnected manner in which the policy levers are understood. However, the gods of our culture and our cities might prevent its implementation – partly because the forces of empire are not interested to part with its gains but partly because the IUDF is reluctant to ‘name’ the thief in our midst, that is out to kill, steal and destroy (John 10:10).

It is therefore very possible that one could see the same old story: the tension between rather good policy frameworks at one level and bad practices on the other; or good policy framework simply not being implemented or implemented but not consequently in the way in which it was envisioned, therefore failing to have the optimal impact it envisioned. For the ‘new deal’ to become ‘good news’ would require nothing less than multiple conversions: the arrogance of the rich, the rulers (politicians and officials) and the religious need to be transformed into postures of humble service and solidarity with the poor; an economics of privilege and exploitation needs to be replaced with an economics of frugality, radical sharing and good stewardship; and a politics of oppression and silencing need to be overthrown to make space for multiple movements from below, practising a politics of agency and opening up spaces for inclusion that announce that the city now indeed belongs to all who live in it.


Five proposals for theological and political action

In conclusion, I am drawing from my earlier reflections to now simply offer five proposals for theological and political actions. It is meant to help overcome the faith-based absence both in the text of the IUDF but also in urban and public discourse generally. At this point, I will not elaborate much on each of the five as they need to be systematically worked out theologically and politically through actions that will include immersion, analysis and research, critical reflection and collaborative practices.

Consciousness from below

It is important to foster awareness and a new consciousness from below around the ‘new deal’ presented in the IUDF. Such a consciousness needs to critique the shortcomings of the IUDF in terms of failing to position itself clearly within a neoliberal capitalist political economy that continues to deal violent exclusions. Consciousness-raising should also include the important task of fostering a new spirituality or ethos or collective culture that would be able to give birth to a radical ‘new deal’, more radical than that envisioned by the IUDF, fostered from below and expressed in radical, liberationist forms of servant hood and solidarity.

A new economics

Away from an economics of privilege and exploitation, a new economics should be imagined, sustained by a spirituality of frugality and sharing, inspired by a ‘living level’ for all inhabitants of the city, sacrifices by the rich including rich churches, and experimentation and multiplication of practices and enterprises expressing an economics of community (cf. Wallis 1994).

A different kind of politics

Instead of politics being done on the terms of those in public office, local communities and citizens, including faith- and community-based organisations, need to participate critically and constructively not only in city-making from below but also informing city-making at the top. Faith communities need to engage in a new kind of politics, demonstrating solidarity with excluded and violated (non)citizens and action collaboratively as companions subverting and outwitting the violent city.

Radical socio-spatial transformation

At least three of the eight policy levers or strategic priorities deal with spatial restructuring. Social and spatial exclusions go hand in hand, and spatial transformation is the central thrust throughout the IUDF. But, although it is the central thrust, the workings of capital can undermine the idealistic visions of the IUDF. Faith communities, drawing deeply from Biblical narratives of land and landlessness, should consider demonstrating socio-spatial transformation, just by the ways in which it deals with its own land, property and churches, and how church members participate in perpetuating or healing socio-spatial divides.

Collaborative knowledge generation

A critical action to be undertaken is for collaborative knowledge generation to accompany the implementation of the IUDF at local neighbourhood level, through ongoing critique of the very framework and implementation processes, trans-disciplinary action research, critical assessment of models and practices, and documentation of replicable models and practices.

People of faith, (non)citizens and public officials collectively could translate the lofty ideals and ideas of the IUDF into workable local actions and practices, that are at the same time radicalised and contextualised to dismantle and subvert the violent city and to work for a city that is truly good news, especially ‘from below’.


Competing interests

The authors declare that they have no financial or personal relationships which may have inappropriately influenced them in writing this article.


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