The UK team hosted its first two advisory groups at the end of June. This post flags up some of the key areas discussed by our team of practitioners and academics (Jacob Bonehill, Andrew Close, Cliff Hague, Clive Harridge, Lucy Natarajan, Pat Noxolo, Riette Oosthuizen, Johanna Waters and Paul Watson).
Apartheid legacy and structural issues
Planners are known to have been ‘disproportionally active’ in reinforcing apartheid exclusionary rules. There is a need to recognise the legacy of apartheid and the resulting planned townscape that was left for current planners to address: highly controlled and planned urban environments but also vast portions of land that were not administered or planned at all. Despite apartheid’s legacy, South Africa has already evolved though and here are many structural issues that stem from diverse particular socio-spatial organisations and the existence of different social groups, languages and land ownership that need to be constantly challenged and understood for planners. Furthermore, there is a lack of spatial set-ups for engagement resulting in people living in segregated ways. Those are all issues SAPER will look at and reflect upon the implications for planning education.
Informality, inequalities and planning education
South African cities, similarly to many Global South countries, show different formal/informal arrangements that cannot be understood simply from a western perspective. Some of the ways informality shapes everyday lives illustrate what people can accomplish with very limited resource, no matter how scarce they might be. Informality is a key aspect of this, as it is, often, the only way to access services and spaces that are not formally available. This means that planners need to consider places and processes of informality and their dynamic character, otherwise they risk to exclude groups contingent on it.
Now, the way planners have to deal with informality goes beyond the South African and Global South context and is something to address even in a country like the UK. In line with this, there is a need for planning education in the UK to rethink how inequality is addressed. Even though planners tend to not relate themselves as professionals tacking inequalities and dealing with informality, it is a growing issue in the country, with the gradual withdraw from the State and neoliberalisation of planning. A project such as SAPER can contribute to addressing those key questions and reflect upon the commonalities that are to be discussed contextually, in a way that UK planning schools can also act on the issues raised by the project.
Formats of planning Higher Education
Planning education in South Africa is structured upon intense and full-time curriculums, with two years MSc programmes, within a high-end model that is not being pursued in the UK anymore due to its high economic costs. Students stay longer in the classroom for more years, while in the UK education time is much shorter and allows work experience outside of the University. The latter relates to a model where a balance is sought with what should be learned in the university and how much are skills that will be acquired in practice. The different models underscore the need to understand the different arenas from which students come to study planning, their gender, race, social background, success and then employability rates. Additionally it is important to understand how universities deal with the different skills that are brought to the courses which, in the case of South Africa, also include a complex language landscape. Furthermore, the lack of a welfare system in place that would enable those born in poorer households to pursue a university education in South Africa complexifies even further the discussion. Again, all those parameters will be included within SAPER analysis.
Educational mobility and whether the current model of internationalisation serves to further colonise the education is another crucial area for further discussion. Internationalisation follows a cycle where institutional capital becomes economic capital. Students, in South Africa and the wider Global South, are often already a self-selected elitist group in their home countries. Once they finish their international experience, they tend to return to metropolitan centres, dominating local market job and reproducing a cycle of privilege that excludes a large portion of local population. What interests will they represent, if the knowledge to which they are exposed is overall Euro-American centred?
The question that remains is what knowledge is being produced from the interaction between students from the Global South and from the wider North in institutions located in the North. Is it possible to develop educational interchanges that help planners value their local knowledges? This is a subject that would interest not only UK and SA, but all commonwealth countries. Typically, many of the members of Commonwealth Association of Planners are small countries with very few planners, and many times, no planning education in place, forcing planners to seek education abroad. In this regard, a comprehensive study of the South-North interactions in planning minding the colonial character of current global educational patterns is essential and SAPER sits within this ambition.
Decolonisation needs to be a broad concept
Despite the current importance of the discussion of decolonising the curriculum that crosses the borders of SA and UK, with the #RhodesMustFall and the #WhyIsMyCurriculumSoWhite movements (among others) that have been gaining momentum in academia, there is a need to go beyond the university framework to understand how coloniality is being embodied globally. Nevertheless, a decolonial debate is also dependent on investment: how much are people invested in and committed to change? Academia altogether holds a colonial dimension, with most production stemming from Euro-American universities. That affects the training, heavily based on such a literature. Nevertheless, it is not enough to only look at planning, as the regimes under which it is practised are many times inappropriate, not only because of the numerous challenges faced locally, but also because the legalist framework is not adequate to addressing them. This triggers reflections about the decolonisation of other social, economic and political institutions, and essentially the State.