Capital cities in the spotlight at UP

Posted on April 20, 2015

With most of the world’s population now living in cities and the current rate of urbanisation showing no signs of abating, the sustainable management of urban areas has become one of the most important development challenges of our time. According to a report recently released by the United Nations (UN), the world’s urban population accounted for 54% of the total global population in 2014, up from 34% in 1960. It is projected to increase to as much as 66% by 2050 and the urban population is expected to surpass six billion by 2045.  Much of this growth is expected to take place in developing countries – and particularly in Africa. This means that these countries will face numerous challenges in trying to meet their growing urban populations’ needs in respect of housing, infrastructure, transportation, energy and employment, as well as in providing basic services such as education and health care.

Many of these services are typically provided by the national government of a country, which is normally based in the nation’s capital. In general, capital cities are unique in that, unlike other cities in a country, they provide a special site for the concentration, administration and representation of political power. While most other countries around the world have only one capital city, South Africa has three. Pretoria, or the City of Tshwane, is the administrative capital and the seat of the state president and cabinet. It is often considered the de facto national capital of South Africa and is home to most of the foreign embassies in the country. Cape Town, the seat of parliament, is the legislative capital and Bloemfontein, the seat of the Supreme Court of Appeal, is the judicial capital.

The resurgence of the importance of capital cities in the wake of the global economic crisis, along with the challenges presented by the unique way in which our country’s centres of power are structured, makes the City of Tshwane, where the University of Pretoria (UP) has its roots, an important site for understanding and intervention. This opportunity to contribute to finding solutions to the challenges that face our city, our society and our world has found expression in UP’s Capital Cities Project – a University-wide research programme initiated by the Faculty of Humanities with partial funding from the Andrew W Mellon Foundation. The project offers a strategic opportunity to harness existing research expertise and to position the University at the centre of a significant effort to address the global challenge for cities to become more creative, productive, liveable and sustainable, specifically by bridging the gap between research in the humanities and in other fields such as law, architecture, economics, environmental and health sciences – each of which has much to contribute to meaningful urban research individually, but is unlikely to be able resolve the tangled city problems we face today in isolation.

In order to achieve this ambitious goal, researchers and postgraduate students from almost all the faculties at UP – Humanities, Law, Natural and Agricultural Sciences, Engineering, the Built Environment and Information Technology, Theology and Economic and Management Sciences – collaborate under the auspices of the Capital Cities Project by asking new questions about the City of Tshwane and representations of Pretoria as the national capital city. Globally the positioning of capital cities in general is being investigated from the viewpoint of a variety of disciplines, including arts and language, architecture and urban planning, social theory, human rights law, history, drama, psychology, anthropology, political science and economics. Key to the accomplishment of these aims, is building collaboration with universities in other capital cities around the world. To date live exchange has been established with universities in Brasília, Paris, Amsterdam and Atlanta, with more to follow. A rich meeting ground informed by international experience will continue to facilitate interaction among role-players that engage the City of Tshwane. At its core, the project forms a node around which postgraduate training and postdoctoral support can be organised and from which the leveraging of funding can be facilitated.

The Group of Latin American and Caribbean Countries (GRULAC) in South Africa and the Capital Cities Project will be hosting a two-day international conference on the topic, ‘Changing capital cities in Latin America, the Caribbean and Southern Africa’, on Tuesday, 21 April and Wednesday, 22 April. Participants will have the opportunity to gain insight into other world cities through expert presentations from Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, Uruguay, Guyana, Mozambique and South Africa that will show how cities adapt. They will also be able to enjoy a cultural fair presented by the GRULAC embassies and high commissions.

Highlights of the event will include the following presentations: ‘A tale of three capital cities: Salvador, Rio de Janeiro and Brasília’ by Prof Maria Fernanda Derntl from the Universidade de Brasília, ‘The social life of waste art’ by Dr Myer Taub and Dr Detlev Krige from the University of Pretoria, and ‘Capital cities in Africa: power and powerlessness’ by Prof Simon Bekker from the University of Stellenbosch.

The Capital Cities Project contributes to the University’s strategy of having ‘a positive impact on its immediate and broader communities and environments, as well as being and remaining a hub of knowledge production that speaks to the global academic community.’

Please click here for more information on the conference. 

- Author Ansa Heyl

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