Ekurhuleni Metropolitan Area

Creating a metropolitan institution to reveal the interdependence of territories marked by apartheid

Katia Buoro, Xavier Desjardins, 2012

South African metropolitan areas are spaces that are extremely segregated between neighborhoods. This spatial division of territory is often repeated at the political and administrative level, insofar as above the neighborhood, no authority exists for regulating interactions between territories. This is notably true of Ekurhuleni, where socio-spatial differentiations inherited from apartheid’s segregationist policies are great.

East Rand is a South African metropolitan area also known as the Ekurhuleni Metropolitan Area. It is the country’s largest industrial region. Yet within this space, democracy and identity are experienced only at the level of racially and socially segregated neighborhoods. The economically depressed center contrasts with the vibrant northern zone, where the airport is located, and the “black” southern zone, consisting primarily of townships. The region thus lacks a single urban center. Even so, this hodgepodge of specialized territories is South Africa’s greatest industrial area.

The state has sought to establish a metropolitan authority that would create administrative unity for the first time, despite the fact that the territory all belongs to the same metropolitan area. This policy was preceded by failed efforts to integrate the territory at a lower administrative level, that of the municipality. Municipal authorities were established in 1995 to integrate white cities and black cities. But this project failed due to the neighborhoods’ strong sense of identity. The urgent need for political negotiations between the country’s various minorities and for a strengthening of central power gave way to liberal reforms based on privatization and the rationalization of public services. In other words, the state no longer sought maximum control over local powers as it once had. The central government’s new project is to impose a single authority at a higher level, one that is further removed from local forces. The old municipalities will thus be replaced by a single authority extending over the entire East Rand. This policy of promoting the metropolitan level is an attempt to address the problem of the segregation of spatial, administrative, and political structures, which the area inherited from apartheid, by emphasizing its unity as an industrial region. Competition between municipalities results in parallel policies, which are often poorly coordinated and costly.

This new level could be established thanks to an alliance between the central government and the local authorities in neighborhoods, who wanted to abolish the old municipalities, which they saw as weakening their power. This metropolitan authority was the result of a contingent convergence of various forces. It should encourage the rationalization sought by the regional services administration, while also strengthening the power of local elected officials belonging to the ANC. Indeed, many municipalities were hostile to the ANC.

The emergence of a metropolitan identity transcending neighborhood identities and interests will be challenging, but it is not the policy’s real purpose: neighborhoods will remain the most important local level. Yet these neighborhoods will continue to drive the social and racial segregation that remains so characteristic of the East Rand area and South Africa in general. What then will be the impact of this new metropolitan authority?


  • Gervais-Lambony Philippe « Les enjeux d’une politique de redéfinition territoriale : la création de l’aire métropolitaine d’Ekurhuleni (Afrique du Sud) », in, Jaglin, Sylvie, Gérer la ville, entre global et local, 2002, L’Aube, pp. 27 – 39