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Investigating how South African cities can lead the way for the African continent

Four new studies aiming to analyse how South African cities can mould a sustainable future for the nation and the wider African continent have been awarded more than £1.8 million from the ESRC and the National Research Foundation (NRF) of South Africa.

In the future South African cities will have a fundamental role to play in developing sustainable pathways for Africa, including the potential to act as test-beds in urban growth, economic development, and environmental innovation.

Urban Transformations in South Africa will support four projects, headed by world-leading experts in their field, to look at the challenges South African cities face in overcoming legacies of segregation and inequality.

Each of the studies will also investigate the cities’ positions in global flows of trade, finance, people and resources which can mean that they face greater challenges in urban development around manifest issues such as job creation and growth, housing and infrastructure, as well as social and environmental resilience. 

Part of the Newton Fund – a £375 million fund provided to the Research Councils as part of the UK's Official Development Assistance (ODA) commitment to develop science and innovation partnerships that promote the economic development and welfare of developing countries – the Urban Transformations in South Africa project has awarded just over £1.6 million of ESRC funding, in addition to 5.9 million RAND (equivalent to more than £255,000) from NRF, to the following projects: 

  • Changing socio-spatial Inequalities: Population change and the lived experience of inequality in urban South Africa
    Professor Christopher Lloyd (University of Liverpool) and Professor Ivan Turok (Human Sciences Research Council)
    The project focuses on geographic inequalities in South Africa, involving a collaborative partnership between researchers in the UK and South Africa. The main objective of this project is to examine the interplay between urban spatial transformation and social attitudes towards inequality, attachment to place, and social inclusion.
  • Community-led upgrading for self-reliance in South Africa: Integrated construction and environmental management systems in informal settlements
    Dr Maria Christina Georgiadou (University of Westminster) and Dr Claudia Loggia (University of KwaZulu-Natal)
    The project will focus on the processes and techniques involved in ‘upgrading’ slums in and around Durban. The overarching aim is to investigate current practices of community involvement in improving their homes and neighbourhoods in order to formulate integrated and collaborative strategies that suit local needs.
  • Living the urban periphery: investment, infrastructure and economic change in African city-regions
    Dr Paula Meth (University of Sheffield) and Professor Alison Todes (University of the Witwatersrand)
    The project brings an international comparative lens to the study of South African cities by comparing two city regions in South Africa with Addis Ababa in Ethiopia. The specific objective is to understand how urban transformation in the peripheries of these African cities, particularly in terms of infrastructural investments and economic change, is shaped, governed and experienced, and how these processes impact on urban poverty.
  • Urban transformation in South Africa through co-designing energy services provision pathways
    Dr Federico Caprotti, (King’s College London) and Professor Harold Winkler (University of Cape Town)
    This project will look to help transform energy pathways in urban areas of South African municipalities. The project’s objective is to move towards integrated energy strategies in different cities, with a view to reducing carbon intensity, increasing the electrification of specific neighbourhoods, and combating energy poverty.

Julie McLaren, Head of Society and Global Security, at the ESRC said: "We are delighted to be awarding four fantastic projects from this international programme.

"The breadth and quality of research being funded as part of Urban Transformations in South Africa will make a significant contribution to collaborative urban scholarship across our two countries on themes that can have a transformative impact on economic prosperity and the alleviation of poverty in not only South Africa, but also regionally in Africa as well."

Notes for editors

  1. The Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) is the UK’s largest funder of research on the social and economic questions facing us today. It supports the development and training of the UK’s future social scientists and also funds major studies that provide the infrastructure for research. ESRC-funded research informs policymakers and practitioners and helps make businesses, voluntary bodies and other organisations more effective. The ESRC also works collaboratively with six other UK research councils and Innovate UK to fund cross-disciplinary research and innovation addressing major societal challenges. The ESRC is an independent organisation, established by Royal Charter in 1965, and funded mainly by the Government.
  2. The National Research Foundation of South Africa (NRF) is an independent government agency that promotes and supports research in all fields of knowledge. It also conducts research in specific national strategic areas and provides access to National Research Facilities. The NRF provides services to the research community especially at Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) and Science Councils with a view to promote high-level human capital development and the production of internationally competitive knowledge. Its aims are to uphold excellence while at the same time transforming the system in all its investments in knowledge, people and infrastructure. More information can be found at the NRF website.
  3. Through a focus on research and innovation the Newton Fund promotes the economic development and social welfare of partner countries.
    The initiative, which is part of the UK's Official Development Assistance (ODA) commitment, was launched by the Chancellor in April 2014 with a fund of £375 million over five years. The intention is that UK funding is matched either by partner countries or by private foundations, multi-lateral organisations or corporate partners. The ESRC expects to receive approximately £21.5 million from the Fund, along with a share of a wider RCUK allocation.
    The three broad activities the fund will cover are:
    • People – capacity building, student and research fellowships, mobility schemes and joint centres
    • Research – research collaborations on development topics
    • Translation – innovation partnerships and challenge funds to develop innovative solutions on development topics.
    The ESRC has utilised the opportunity of the Newton Fund to enhance its international engagement around key priorities and collaborations which are particularly well suited to working with the Newton countries.


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