Spatial Transformation: Are Intermediate Cities Different?

South Africa’s colonial and apartheid past has left the country’s urban areas with a distinctive spatial legacy of racial segregation, low densities, sprawling suburbs and the location of most urban poor on the periphery of cities. Despite a range of legislation and instruments introduced since 1994 with the aim of spatial transformation, this spatial reality remains.


Most research has focused on spatial transformation in South Africa’s large urban centres, rather than in the smaller (secondary or intermediate) cities, whose importance are recognised globally. The South African Cities Network (SACN) has spearheaded the development of a knowledge base associated with intermediate cities and to date has published three policy documents. This latest publication focuses on 11 intermediate city case studies: King Sabata Dalindyebo (KSD, Eastern Cape), Matjhabeng (Free State), Msunduzi (KwaZulu-Natal), Lephalale and Polokwane (Limpopo), Mbombela (Mpumalanga), Mahikeng and Rustenburg (North West), Sol Plaatje (Northern Cape), and Drakenstein and Stellenbosch (Western Cape).


The research had three broad aims:

  1. To describe the nature of spatial changes in the case-study areas and to identify the mechanisms that tend to influence this change.
  2. To evaluate the quality and ability of spatial development frameworks (SDFs) as a policy mechanism to create change, articulate a spatial understanding and inform the spatial transformation agenda in the 11 cities. (Some reference is also made to integrated development plans and, for comparative reasons, built environment performance plans in the metropolitan areas are assessed.)
  3. To assess whether intermediate cities require a differentiated approach towards spatial transformation: Are intermediate cities different?