Johannesburg’s Infrastructures of Security and Exclusion - Martin Murray Set to Publish his Latest Book
Martin Murray is a professor at U-M’s Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning and an adjunct professor in the Department of Afroamerican and African Studies. Murray has published three books on city-building and spatial politics in post-apartheid Johannesburg. His fourth book, The Infrastructures of Security: Technologies of Risk Management in Johannesburg, will be published in the 2021/22 academic year.
As a sociologist, Murray has written prodigiously on urban policies, histories, and the spatial forms of cities in Africa. Murray is an incisive and longstanding critic of South African spatial inequality and has committed much of his scholarly career to studying the country’s political economy. Such inequality is a legacy of the South African apartheid regime, which was always attentive to the power of spatial planning in shaping segregation and simultaneously creating concentrated wealth and widespread poverty.
His recent work, including his forthcoming book, looks at how South Africa’s economic, racialized, and social inequalities are embedded in and tied to the production of Johannesburg’s urban space. In his previous books, Murray documents how urban inequality remains entrenched in Johannesburg by analyzing the city’s spatial politics, modes of crime and policing, and by documenting the emergence of privatized segregated housing estates in and beyond Gauteng province.
The Infrastructures of Security is a natural continuation of Murray’s irreverent and provocative work on South African urban society. In the introduction, Murray writes: “Despite its flashiness and vibe, Johannesburg has remained a deeply divided city in which the class and racial chasms of over a hundred years of greed and indifference lurk underneath the shiny surface.” Rather than existing as essentialized or “fixed” categories, Murray persuasively shows how race and class-based categories are mediated by and contingent on social and spatial constructions over time.
Johannesburg’s “shiny surface” framing emerged at the start of the 21st century, as it attempted to brand itself as a “world-class” city. Such branding “conceals desperation, poverty, and homelessness behind the comforting facade of cosmopolitan glitz and upscale luxury consumption. For the majority of urban residents, precarity is the condition of existence for everyday living.” Murray pulls no punches in his critique of how Johannesburg’s celebratory branding exists as a gloss beneath which South Africa’s history of class and race inequalities live - inherited from apartheid and perpetuated through the urban present.
Murray argues that Johannesburg’s apartheid “past” is reconfigured and reproduced through urban and infrastructural developments and “new mechanisms of social exclusion.” These new mechanisms are found at the faultlines of city property, the privatization of space, and the fortification of wealthy residents from those living in urban poverty. Johannesburg’s “infrastructures of security” take form through new technologies of surveillance enabled by the “CCTV revolution,” the “hyper-panoptic imagination,” and the spatial management policies of the “hypermodern city.” Johannesburg’s technologies of risk management extend old tropes of segregation through the new guise of modern urbanism.
The “compound” serves as a useful example of the continuation of spatial segregation, albeit through reconfigured forms and different infrastructures of security. In South Africa, “compounds” connote the country’s pre-apartheid history, wherein black migrant workers were housed and “sealed off” from Johannesburg and Kimberley’s white urban populations. In contemporary South Africa, Murray discusses how such strategies of race and class-based segregation persist through Johannesburg’s “walled compounds” and its “variegated hodgepodge of spatial typologies.” The principle difference, however, is that “walled compounds” now exist as the preserve of the rich, who seek to harness private companies, technological solutions, and the vacuum of public law enforcement to reconfigure the cloistered spatial forms of the past, despite Johannesburg’s image as a hub of post-apartheid cosmopolitanism.
Murray’s book shows how post-apartheid Johannesburg “consists of a patchwork of such “islands of security” as enclosed shopping malls, gated residential estates, cocooned office parks, and fortified homes [are] juxtaposed against such no-go “danger zones” as vast informal settlements, clustered zones of dereliction and ruin, and unguarded parking lots, and unprotected streets.” His forthcoming book serves as a stark reminder of the importance of urban planning, policy, and research in cities where inequalities are inherited and perpetuated through new forms and different framings.