Didier on Samara, 'Cape Town after Apartheid: Crime and Governance in the Divided City'

Tony Roshan Samara
Sophie Didier

Tony Roshan Samara. Cape Town after Apartheid: Crime and Governance in the Divided City. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2011. x + 238 pp. $75.00 (cloth), ISBN 978-0-8166-7000-0; $25.00 (paper), ISBN 978-0-8166-7001-7.

Reviewed by Sophie Didier (University of Paris 13-North - Laboratoire Mosaïques-LAVUE (UMR 7218)) Published on H-SAfrica (July, 2014) Commissioned by Elisabeth Peyroux

Analyzing the Neoliberal Regime of Security and Policing in Cape Town

With the book Cape Town after Apartheid: Crime and Governance in the Divided City, Tony Roshan Samara offers an exploration of the interactions between policing issues and the urban fragmentation of Cape Town, and he interprets the post-apartheid transformation of security management as a merging of apartheid practices into neoliberal governance. A sociologist based at George Mason University, Samara is not new to studies of security and policing, and his previous work, published mostly in scholarly journals, has focused for almost a decade on such issues as youth and crime in the Mother City.[1] This book engages these results in a broader, synthetic perspective. His knowledge of the city, and in particular of the networks of social workers and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) involved in youth development and crime prevention programs (which feature extensively in the book through transcribed interviews and correspondence alongside extensive official documents and local press coverage analysis), gives the book much-appreciated added value and richness of situated detail directly feeding its ambitious aim. The basic premise of the book lies in a rarely seen attempt to address the issue of crime control and policing in a comprehensive way, one that shifts the book project away from the field of criminal studies and anchors it more firmly in the recent global developments of urban studies, mainly that of the many and varied incarnations of neoliberalism in global cities. In that regard, the intended audiences for the book are scholars and postgraduate students in the fields of urban studies, urban sociology, and critical geography who are already familiar with South Africa. 

The book is in this sense very interesting, in particular because, form following function, the author tries to link in his analysis case studies that have usually been examined separately over the past ten years, in other words, the policing of the Cape Town Flats area in parallel with the securing of downtown Cape Town (which has generated most of the recent academic writing).[2] Samara posits this link as essential to the thesis proposed here, in line in particular with other radical academic work envisioning South African cities as extreme forms of dual cities, deeply divided between neighborhoods of affluence and neighborhoods of dire poverty.[3] The book identifies the post-apartheid transformation of security and policing in Cape Town as a typical neoliberal regime tactic, where the fortressing of spaces of exclusivity (the city center) is also made possible by the brutal implementation of containment policies in the remote and impoverished peripheries (singularly, the Cape Flats townships).

Part of the introduction and the first chapter of the book focus on how post-apartheid South Africa development policies have increasingly relied on hard policing tactics as an absolute prerequisite, in line with recommendations from international agencies: in an inversion of the immediate post-1994 period (prior to the GEAR [Growth, Employment and Redistribution, identified as the defining moment of the neoliberalization of macro-economic policies in South Africa] transformation of macro-economic policies, which we understand worked here also as a turning point), it has been assumed thereafter that development would happen only once safety and security were restored in communities severely affected by crime. Readers familiar with the developmental debates in South Africa will recognize here the much-discussed trickle-down effect of pro-growth proponents, but Samara offers a new perspective with his weaving of the development motif next to the transformation of policing and security at the national level.

The following chapters (2, 3, 4, and 5) develop in greater detail the crime management situation at ground level in the city of Cape Town and dissect security issues at the core of urban renewal strategies in the city of the early to mid-2000s, be they aimed at the preservation of downtown's property values or the fighting of crime and gangs in impoverished townships as a prerequisite to urban renewal. Samara first examines the securing of the city center for tourism and investment purposes and its devastating social effects via the criminalization and displacement of street children and beggars. Thus doing, he offers an interesting development on the moral panic affecting the city center's elites and the construction of street children as emblematic scapegoats. He then moves on to the hard-line policing tactics adopted in parallel in the Cape Flats, tactics that have essentially been drifting toward the containment of the poor (and essentially the black and Coloured poor) through militaristic intervention and the gradual neglect of crime prevention strategies over the past fifteen years. Samara offers valuable comments on the transformation of gang culture as well as on the impact of hard policing on communities and, again, the construction of black and Coloured youth as de facto suspicious figures in the post-apartheid era.

While the book is agreeably clear, without jargon and lengthy theoretical developments, the overarching thesis of the dual city/dual policing definitely needs more discussion at some point. The thesis raises at times more questions than the empirical work can answer. In particular, the very notion of the dual city itself can be (and is) contested in the case of post-apartheid South African cities, specifically in view of the ongoing blurring of former segregation (both racial and social) patterns affecting former white areas and areas of fringe urbanization.[4] These areas are not examined in the book, yet it would be interesting to see whether other forms of negotiation of crime management can be found in these fast growing communities, and how these forms address or not the author's overarching neoliberal interpretation and thus our understanding of the post-apartheid city: for instance, internationally inspired "broken window" theory principles were also pushed in the CIDs (City Improvement Districts) implemented along the Voortrekker corridor, in the former white municipalities of Parow, Bellville, and Goodwood where the stakes of tourism and international profile are obviously nonexistent in comparison to the city center. This is not to say that crime management in these kinds of areas is not problematic: Obvious Katsaura's recent work on community policing in Johannesburg has shown the fraught and exclusionary nature of micro-politics at play in these complex neighborhoods.[5] Yet it is doubtful that what is going on in these areas can be unilaterally interpreted as an infringement of transnational neoliberalism as defined by Samara for the Cape Town case. But this is of course a different avenue of field research. To remain within the strict limits of the book, a discussion on the Cape Flats as representative of the periphery in the dual city would similarly be needed in view of its internal fine-grained social stratification: this certainly makes the local negotiation of security management variable due to the differentiated access of civil society organizations and local councillors to the mayoral committee of the city of Cape Town as well as to the provincial head of SAPS (South African Police Service). Likewise, black African (i.e., not Coloured according to the old South African classification) townships such as Khayelitsha and informal settlements have developed according to very different patterns of historically constructed segregation, and it is not certain that the Cape Flats situation can typify all the peripheries due to the very specific (and highly sustainable) gang culture affecting them.

If we are indeed to understand the Cape Town case as representative of a global neoliberal turn in policing and security management, in line with the punitive turn of urban management identified for cities of the North, then Samara offers a compelling case. His book also interestingly resonates within the particular South African context with recent interrogations around the violence of the ANC (African National Congress) state.[6] It seems that further discussion is needed around the general understanding of the articulation of these local and transnational threads of theory, as well as around what appears historically to be a seamless shift from the apartheid to the post-apartheid period.


[1]. See, for instance, Tony Roshan Samara, "Youth, Crime, & Urban Renewal in the Western Cape," Journal of Southern African Studies 31, no. 1 (2005): 209-227; and Tony Roshan Samara, "Policing Development: Urban Renewal as Neo-liberal Security Strategy," Urban Studies 47, no. 1 (2010): 197-214.

[2]. See, for instance, Faranak Miraftab, "Governing Post-apartheid Spatiality: Implementing City Improvement Districts in Cape Town," Antipode 39, no. 4 (2007): 602-626; Scarlet Cornelissen, "Mega-event securitisation in a Third World Setting: Global Processes and Ramifications in the 2010 FIFA World Cup," Urban Studies 48, no. 15 (2011): 3221-3240; and Sophie Didier, Marianne Morange, and Elisabeth Peyroux, "The Adaptative Nature of Neoliberalism at the Local Scale: Fifteen Years of City Improvement Districts in Cape Town and Johannesburg," Antipode 45, no. 1 (2013): 121–139.

[3]. For a similar analysis on Johannesburg, see, in particular, Martin J. Murray, Taming the Disorderly City: The Spatial Landscape of Johannesburg after Apartheid (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2008); and Martin J. Murray, City of Extremes: The Spatial Politics of Johannesburg (Durham: Duke University Press, 2011).

[4]. On these new patterns of segregation that do not directly reproduce apartheid inheritance in Cape Town, see, for instance, Owen Crankshaw, "Deindustrialization, Professionalisation and Racial Inequality in Cape Town," Urban Affairs Review 48, no. 6 (2012): 839-865.

[5]. Obvious Katsaura, "Socio-spatial Politics of Community Safety Governance in Johannesburg" (PhD diss., University of the Witwatersrand, 2013).

[6]. See, in particular, Karl Von Holdt, "South Africa: The Transition to Violent Democracy," Review of African Political Economy 40, no. 138 (2013): 589-604.

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Citation: Sophie Didier. Review of Samara, Tony Roshan, Cape Town after Apartheid: Crime and Governance in the Divided City. H-SAfrica, H-Net Reviews. July, 2014. URL: http://www.h-net.org/reviews/showrev.php?id=40781

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