South Africa: Geography in Power

De Baripedia

South Africa has a very particular historical and geographical experience. Racism will have been a fundamental component. In each phase, it has used space and territory as a means of implementing a policy that has been segregative.

South Africa developed terrible political systems first under the colonialist yoke and then autonomous through apartheid policies. It was not until the early 1990s that apartheid ceased along with other systems. It was the end of a segregationist order.

Today, South Africa is trying to rebuild itself on a "rainbow" model, but also to reduce the inequalities that result from the past system.

It was a settlement that retained the previous population that was carried out with successive waves of European colonization. Moreover, the constitution of the segregating system, in its space technologies, shows that geography can be mobilized for political purposes.

How did the geography of apartheid introduce an original and revealing spatial organization that shows how the organization of territory is closely linked to that of power?


Five South African Space Puzzles [modifier | modifier le wikicode]

During the contemporary period, South Africa offers a whole series of geographical enigmas.

Uneven distribution of population [modifier | modifier le wikicode]

It can appear enigmatic and strange because there are strong contrasts.

1996 South African population distribution based on 1996 census and returned within 2000 municipal boundaries - La nouvelle géographie régionale de l’Afrique du Sud post-apartheid par Pr. Brij Maharaj et Dr. Sagie Narsiah

Large, densely populated areas appear, each point representing 10,000 inhabitants. On the other hand, we have a whole part made up of dense northern coastal regions. The east-west axis is therefore the first level of opposition. There are also large agglomeration spaces with three main agglomerations and a huge one in the interior.

This map asks a whole series of questions. It is possible to distinguish:

  • major urban centres with a high population density;
  • geographical characteristics specific to each region.

Composition par origine de la société Sud-Africaine[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

The South African population has extremely varied origins.

Racial concentrations in Afs (1979).

This map shows the distribution of the different groups defined according to the origin of the population. It is a multi-ethnic/racial society or a cosmopolitan society:

  • whites
  • Blacks
  • Indian
  • Métis ("colours"): groups together populations born of mixed unions.

This typology refers to different origins for populations who came to South Africa. We can then question the reasons for these population movements. These are mixed groups that constitute a separate category. Today, contemporary South Africa plays on this wealth, which is why it is called the "rainbow nation".[11][12].

However, there are still resurgences vis-à-vis certain South African populations that are attacking populations of African origin (Gambia, Congo, etc.).

The striking fact is that we have an unequal geographical distribution.

Discontinuity in landscapes [modifier | modifier le wikicode]

In South Africa, there are hard borders within the national territory.

Urbanization and settlement patterns in post-apartheid South Africa (projected 2000) - Source : The Urban Foundation, 1990.

This poster shows the contrasts within the large South African cities: the central business district and further away the townships as well as suburbs for the more affluent.

One finds a fracture and clear oppositions with strong landscape contrasts.

There are also contrasts in the countryside depending on the type of agriculture (intensive or extensive). Moreover, these regions have been dominated by populations of European origin with a low density.

Within each category, there are also contrasts. Today, this limit passes inside cities themselves.

These are all internal borders that question us on the way in which they are perpetuated.

Two major characteristics should be remembered:

  • there is pre-colonial land use planning;
  • we can see a strengthening of this dichotomy.

Contemporary South Africa is asserting itself in a process of rebirth of the African continent [modifier | modifier le wikicode]

Today, South Africa is the initiator of the "African renaissance[13][14]. Aujourd'hui, l'Afrique du Sud est l'initiateur de la " renaissance africaine ".


We are talking about the creation of a deep water port in Port-Elizabeth. The objective is to praise the merits of this industrial port, but also the role of South Africa in the African world.

It is an infrastructure zone coupled with an industry to capture flows in order to attract foreign investors. It is therefore possible to be in contact with the places that count for globalization in order to be an integrated and dynamic element.

The Alexandria Lighthouse represents pre-colonial Africa. Today, the challenge would be to find a place for the African continent in order to be an important actor of globalization and to renew with the glorious period of the continent. South Africa proposes to resume this momentum in the name of the "African renaissance".

Dynamics of spatial self-exclusion [modifier | modifier le wikicode]

Matrix - Matrix offers packages that have been specifically designed to match individual safety, security and personal vehicle tracking needs. With a choice in service offerings of either core security, enhanced safety or advanced safety+, you are sure to find the perfect package to match all your vehicle tracking requirements.

A number of individuals or groups decide on their own initiative to restrict the spaces they find acceptable. We see the extreme periphery of a South African conurbation in the foreground.

In the distance, we see the business center. This advertisement is therefore intended for people who work in the business centre and own a car.

This publicity implies a kidnapping and therefore that there is a danger.

Moreover, these populations are reminded that they have nothing to do in these places.

The brand "Matrix" says that "if you are in this place, we will know". "Matrix" sells an on-board vehicle beacon system that allows the vehicle to be permanently located. In the South African context, we are talking about people's safety. This security system will send a private police to pick you up.

Prior to this, the owner of this system must have registered zones from which he self-excludes himself. You can use a product that limits your ability to travel voluntarily on the basis of safety and insecurity.

The colonial origins of an unequal occupation of space [modifier | modifier le wikicode]

Conquest and struggle [modifier | modifier le wikicode]

We will analyse how the successive powers in South Africa used the territory to implement their political strategy.

The following two maps present a number of proven facts. They were produced during the years of the eastern apartheid regime with a political and ideological focus. This is not necessarily reflected in the information, but in the way it is presented.

Black settlement process

This map is an arrow game that shows where African populations from other parts of Africa are thought to come from and where they have settled.

Particularly affected: the northern and eastern part of the map

These populations have diverse origins, for example Nguni, but are of Bantu origin. They find their initial position rather in the centre of the continent and they are oriented towards the east and the south. The current African territory is the result of a process coming from the north.

This document is not dated, but it is considered that the migrations of these populations of Bantu origin took place over several centuries.

However, a deadline set in 1770 is proposed. It does not take into account other redistribution movements within South Africa with urbanization.

Much of South Africa's settlement originated outside the country in the form of successive waves of migration.

We show, on surface, the existence of Shaka's Empire. It is a pre-colonial Zulu empire with a warrior leader who was effective in his undertakings. He would have developed combat techniques in the field and in terms of armament with the invention of a very effective hand-to-hand combat weapon. This emperor was known to the colonial powers.

White settlement process.

The first date that appears is 1652: it is the first European settlement on what will later be the city of Cape Town.

In the middle of the 17th century, several colonial powers formed trading companies in order to drain wealth towards Europe.

The Netherlands has a colonial shipping company (Dutch India Company) that specialises in draining wealth to Europe.

This company is interested in the Dutch Indies which are colonized in the manner of the first colonization. That is to say that they are implanted on the coasts through counters. They maintain relationships with intermediaries.

The settlement was also introduced in order to colonize areas with direct exploitation of the territory by pioneers.

To reach the Dutch Indies, it is necessary to circumvent the African territory by passing by the Cape of Good Hope. The Cape Town site was chosen as a stopover on the road to the Dutch Indies in the mid-17th century.

Very quickly, it will become a small settlement. In addition to being a stage, Cape Town becomes a place of supply that requires local production. A number of settlers came to set up a small settlement to supply the company.

Gradually, this small settlement will expand. At the very beginning, in the 19th century, there was an extensive Cape colony, with a periphery where adventurers introduced relations with the indigenous populations known as the Khoisan populations.

During this first phase of colonization, there was a periphery more or less colonized by adventurers who developed such matrimonial relationships. Many men arrive alone and take native wives. From then on, separation practices were introduced and crossbreeding was condemned and limited.

In the 18th century, the British took over the colony and took the leadership of this part of the world.

This will have important consequences that explain the internal conquest:

  • the British tried to control a larger territory in military forms and opposed a larger population, notably the Bantu, but also a European population. Part of the Dutch population is cut off from the United Provinces and has become autonomous: the Afrikaners. It keeps the language inspired by Dutch which is a dialect namely Afrikans. These populations wanted to escape the British yoke: it is the great trek. This exodus of the fleeing Afrikaners pushed them to conquer inland territories in the form of militia. They advanced until they came upon the Bantu and Zulu populations in the north.
  • the British will also create a settlement. At the end of the 19th century, there was a European presence throughout today's South African territory. There was a confrontation at the beginning of the 20th century: the Burg war between British and Afrikaners. The British will use radical methods. Their army clashed with militia pioneers. To solve this problem, they set up concentration camps to limit support to the armed groups they faced. The British came out victorious, but left their mark on the population.
Sketch of matal.

The British, during the 19th century, conquered Natal. For this, they established a settlement and created a kind of protectorate by leaving a certain autonomy to the populations.

At the end of the 20th century a battle took place in 1879 in which the royal army suffered a heavy defeat resulting in immense losses. It's a trauma for the army and Victorian England.

The Zulu myth was born from this battle. It has several declinations at the same time historical, cultural and political. Today, there is a whole series of places that refer to this myth of the golden age of the Zulus.

Today, a whole counter-culture of a population of African origin claims to be based on the Zulu myth which is at the same time the bearer of a glorious past for African populations, symbolizes resistance in particular against apartheid.

It is also a political resource. After apartheid in the 1990s, there was a civil war between the Zulu Inkatha Freedom Party and Nelson Mandela's African National Congress. Some of the secret services and the army supported the Zulus by advocating that the collapse of apartheid would lead to ethnic struggles. The challenge for Mandela's party was to win back support in the Zulu camp by playing on the Zulu myth.

We can see (fig1.1) that there is only one date. This way of presenting things gives the impression that the fundamental date is in the 17th century whereas for the Bantu it is the middle of the 18th century. This implicitly argues that there is an anteriority of European settlement. The originality of the power would be linked to the anteriority of the colonial settlement: one seeks to prove that the European settlement is legitimate, because it would precede the settlement of the natives.

Establishment of a colonial order [modifier | modifier le wikicode]

Once South Africa was conquered by British troops and settlers of Dutch origin, there was a process of land grabbing and concentration of the African population on what could be described as "residual" areas. On these territories the colonial power accepted a management of customary type devolved to the ethnic groups.

Concentration de la population africaine sur des espaces réservés.png
  • a majority share of the space under the control of the colonizers according to a process of land grabbing. a minority share of the space reserved (hence the word reserve) for African populations with customary management under external control
Scheduled lands in terms of the Natives Land Act, 1913. Moiloa’s Reserve was part of the scheduled lands, but Braklaagte was not. Source:

In 1913, the Union of South African Peoples was formed. The war ended in 1905 and in 1910 the South African Union was created which refers to the unification of the Cape and Matale colony associated with two former provinces formerly dominated by Afrikaners, namely the Orange Free State and the Republic of Transvaal.

From 1911 onwards, the new unified British colony would have a different status from the other colonies in the South African Union.

At the beginning of the 20th century, with the South African Union, African populations were subjected to the colonial order and the colonizers. Less than 15% of the surface area is under autumn administration under colonial control.

This system ensures absolute domination over African populations and mineral resources. The Europeans have secured virtual control of resources, leaving only extremely small reserves for people of African origin. These dedicated areas will gradually be extended in the 1930s to ensure a minimum survival of African populations in terms of food production.

In the middle of the 20th century, minority settlers held this colony which was based on an extreme segregation of space and an unequal distribution of resources.

  • People of British origin advocate political domination and are present in towns and to a lesser extent in the countryside. They brought people of Indian origin as part of the great colonial empire. This responded to a need for labour that was not under the slavish system, but under a regulated contractual system that created dependencies on the British. They are mainly found in the Matale; they were formed as a trading group. The Afrikaners are politically dominated, but are a stakeholder in the colonialist system. These are poorly urbanized populations that have a population group that is dependent on them. They are the crossbreeds made up of populations of different origins, or stemming from unions with European pioneers. The colonial and apartheid authorities were to include in this group very early arrivals and servile populations brought back from the Dutch Indies. These populations have Asian origins. These populations have in common to speak Afrikans.

We have a complex society whose Bantu can be divided into different groups according to the languages and dialects used. One can also define demographic but still land-based power relations to create a dichotomy of populations.

The Three Apartheids [modifier | modifier le wikicode]

After the Second World War, people of European origin had the right to vote, intermediate groups had lower political rights, and people of African origin had no political rights except in the form of the judicial aspect and the soil on reserves.

In the city there is a certain segregation where neighbourhoods are created for these populations. In 1848, the Afrikaner-dominated National Party won the elections against all expectations. The segregative system of apartheid, which takes over the colonial order before it, will therefore be set up by systematizing it and translating the objectives of segregation in a territorial way.

We can talk about several apartheids. The concept is to codify the fees imposed on different groups according to their origins. To set up this regime, the population is strictly defined, we will have a whole legislative apparatus that will specify the various constraints:

"Petty" apartheid [modifier | modifier le wikicode]

It is daily segregation in the public space (reserved places, forbidden places...). It codifies the ways in which people should behave in public spaces. It is a compartmentalization of public space that governs its access.

It was made at the request of the "little whites". They are the least well-off of the settler populations who also represent the electoral base of the "National Party". The "petty" apartheid is adapted to the essential provisions of the "little whites".

Apartheid mesquin.png

Urban apartheid[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

It governs the "apartheid city" and the eras attributed to each category of population. It is finally known by the construction of vast districts called "townships". Soweto (South West Townships) in Johannesburg is a group of townships.

The township is intended for African populations, but the habitat itself corresponds to the workers' habitat that was formed to accompany the industrial revolution. This is not an unhealthy habitat.

It is designed within the framework of an absolute segregation throughout the city with a pass game to avoid the mobility of African populations within the city.

Apartheid urbain 1.png

From the late 1970s and 1980s, townships surrounded by slums were added to these population areas.

The town of Graaff-Reinet is located in a small valley that offers an opportunity for development by its environment.

It is a small town that has developed on a rural model to develop plantations and access certain resources. It is a privileged environment which allows the maintenance of an abundant vegetation.

We see the appearance of a buffer zone to visually separate in space is separated. We end up in a city atomized into a different entity and separated from each other.

Composition de la ville d'aparthei.png

There is a buffer zone that separates the privileged part of the city from the most populated part, the townships. The establishment of a segregated zone highlighted by a buffer zone is a feature of South African apartheid.

Grand apartheid[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

Carte d'Afrique du Sud avec bantoustans

It was put in place later. These reserves have been grouped into entities with a name (ex-Bophuthatswana, Kwazulu, Transkei, etc.). These are the "homelands" that we also call the bantustans.

From the 1950s onwards, the authorities realised that internationally this situation was becoming unbearable. The demands for independence of the African countries, which became widespread in the 1960s, were translated into a movement of decolonisation and called into question the apartheid regime, which did not want to marginalise itself.

They will decolonize without decolonizing. This will be done by trampling on the claim movements, but they will allocate territorial packages according to the ethnic origin of the populations according to language in an arbitrary and archaic way.

South African populations will be granted a nationality to populations of African origin that is different from South African nationality with eventually a given independence to these homelands, citizens being able to exercise political rights in the territory of these new States:

  • we first assign homeland
  • then the independence of the homelands is given while retaining control over the vast majority of South African territory and over mining and agricultural resources

This plan's not going to work:

  • at the international level, except Malawi, no one will recognize the independence of these states. South Africa will be isolated on the international stage.
  • at regional level, it can be assumed that if the scheme had transferred more land, resources and agglomeration, more people would have been convinced.

Annexes[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

References[modifier | modifier le wikicode]