Planet of Slums–Reviewed by GCAS Researcher, Khanyile Joseph Mlotshwa
By Khanyile Joseph Mlotshwa.
Davis, M. 2006. Planet of Slums. London and New York: Verso
I am researching on the social justice implications of the articulation of migration, urbanisation and media in the representation of black citizenship(s) in post-apartheid South Africa, and how these citizenships are produced in the context of this articulation or these articulations. I regard articulations in a technical way, as the connection that makes a unity of two different elements under certain conditions such that “questions of gender may connect with race but in contextspecific and contingent ways” (Barker, 2012:496). My research interrogates connections between migration, urbanisation, the media and resultant subjectivity (citizenship), under the globalisation and neoliberal conditions. Davis (2006)’s book on hyper-urbanisation, linked to migration, under neoliberal conditions has been important in shaping my thinking about my research. Davis (2006) posits that we are at a point where for the first time in human history, the urban population will outnumber the rural population.
Using statistics, Davis (2006) argues that in 1950, there were 86 cities in the world with a population of more than one million; and that today, there are about 550 cities in the world. Importantly, he argues that these cities are growing “by a million babies and migrants each week” (Davis, 2006:2). Davis (2006: 12) draws on Nock (2000:173) to argue that this explosion in the growth of cities is linked to globalisation, which has increased the movement of people, goods, services and information, news, products, and money. Once more, the growth of cities is linked with the growth in global immigration. The world population is expected to grow up to 10 billion by 2050, and 95 percent of this growth is expected to occur “in urban areas of developing countries, whose populations will double to nearly 4 billion over the next generation” (Davis, 2006: 2).
What is important about Davis (2006)’s argument is that, contrary to the old belief that urbanisation is driven by industrialisation and resultant jobs; modern cities were growing on the basis of poverty and inequality. Most people are seen as moving from rural areas to the margins of the city even without any promise of a job. As a result, this growth in urbanisation, especially in Africa, is paralleled by increasing inequality “within and between cities of different sizes and economic specialisations” (Davis, 2006: 7), and huge levels of poverty. This is because this growth is expected to take place in smaller cities, and even within bigger cities, it is expected to take place in informal settlements and at the margins. A significant point that Davis (2006) makes is that the huge levels of poverty are as a result of the fact that this growth in urbanisation is not underwritten by industrialisation or rising agricultural growth. He further points out that from 1960, the rate of Third World urbanisation has continued to grow “in spite of falling real wages, soaring prices, and skyrocketing urban unemployment” (Davis, 2006: 14).
This is seen as leading to the growth of slums rather than the growth of the cities of the dreams of orthodox economic models. In the case of my study, it is in these ‘slums’ characterised by poor municipal services that there is always a break out of xenophobic attacks. The geography of xenophobic violence has been that it always occurs in areas such as Alexandria and Soweto, but not Yeoville, Berea and Hillbrow – areas that are known to have high concentrations of foreign Africans. The way that this book articulates increasing levels of urbanisation, or over-urbanisation, and poverty, deindustrialisation and inability of people to reproduce their lives, makes it important for my study. T
his allows me to further theorise and make sense of xenophobia and its role in the construction of black citizenship. Importantly, this book has affected my thinking about my research in that it has made me consider ways in which unemployment levels in Johannesburg – regarded as Africa’s financial and economic capital – are growing without discouraging migration to the city. A lot of immigrants are involved in informal work in the margins of the city. It has made me consider ways in which urbanisation cannot be regarded as a single uniform phenomenon, but to consider speaking about urbanisations. It has also made me think about urbanisation(s) can be seen as located at the heart of an emancipatory politics by people on the margins; how in creating their own urbanisation, they are also involved in a search for a life of their dreams