At the limits of spatial government: a message from the tip of Africa.


Urban studies scholars drawing on Foucault's analysis of governmentality have investigated how urban social orders are increasingly more concerned with the management of space rather than on the discipline of offenders or the punishment of offences (Merry, 2001). This paper examines the 'rationality' and efficacy of spatial governmentality in post-apartheid Cape Town, and shows how the city has increasingly become a 'fortress city' (Davis, 1990), much like cities such as Los Angeles, Sao Paolo and Rio de Janeiro. These 'global cities' are increasingly characterised by privatised security systems in middle class suburbs, shopping malls and gated communities (Caldeira, 1999). These spatial forms of governmentality draw on sophisticated security systems comprising razor wire and electrified walls, burglar alarms and safe rooms, as well as vicious guard dogs, neighbourhood watches, private security companies, and automated surveillance cameras. On the other side of the race and class divide are urban ghettoes characterised by growing poverty and everyday violence. These socio-spatial inequalities continue to be reproduced despite urban planning initiatives aimed at desegregating the apartheid city. Although the media and the middle classes highlight the dangers of crime and violence, they tend to ignore the structures of inequality that fuel the growth of crime syndicates and violent drug economies that are reproducing these urban governance crises. Given the diminished resources of the neo-liberal state, the policing of middle class residential and business districts is increasingly being 'outsourced' to private security companies. In working class neighbourhoods of Cape Town such as Manenberg, the state has attempted to re-establish governance by resorting to new forms of spatial governmentality. The paper draws attention to the limits of these attempts to assert state control through the management of space. Spatial governance in places like Manenberg will continue to be relatively ineffectual given existing levels of social inequality and racial polarization. Such processes are reproduced by massive unemployment and racialised poverty resulting from socio-spatial legacies of apartheid and Cape Town's shift from a manufacturing to a tourist, IT and financial services economy. Although this paper focuses on attempts at re-establishing governance in a crime and gangster-ridden working class neighbourhood of Cape Town, it addresses these issues in relation to city-wide shifts to new forms of spatial governmentality after apartheid.


Third World Quarterly, Vol 23, No 4, pp. 665-689

At the limits of spatial government: a message from the tip of Africa.

Published 1 January 2002