This article provides a bibliographical outline of some of the major trends in recent South African urban history. In the 1970s the history of black people in the towns and cities emerged as a response to apartheid’s claims that the urban areas were the natural home of the white population. Since 1994 historians have concentrated on issues of importance to the post-apartheid era. These include the history of urban removals which may be used by the courts to provide claimants with compensation. The growth of tourism and the need to refurbish popular memory have encouraged the development of a new interest in the public history surrounding urban architecture, memorials, museums and rituals of commemoration. There has also been an understandable concern to explain the demise of urban apartheid and to trace the dismantling of segregated urban spaces. Several scholars have examined the rapid growth of squatter settlements, and have looked at the methods used to control these areas. Others have concentrated on the political violence, and growing criminality, that has afflicted the urban areas. French scholars have been particularly active, in concert with South African colleagues, in examining the communities of Francophone Africans that have moved into the cities of the subcontinent after the fall of apartheid.
By Patrick Harries