Renowned urbanist and academic, Professor Edgar Pieterse, will discuss Africa’s urban revolution as part of the Gordon Institute for Performing and Creative Arts’ Great Texts/Big Questions public lecture series. The lecture will take place on Wednesday 30 April at Hiddingh Hall.

“Africa’s urban revolution is at the epicentre of the so-called ‘rise of the continent’. Yet, the prospect of a doubling of the urban population in just one generation, the explosion of a youthful demographic confronted with the absence of decent work and omnipresent consumer cultures, represent spectres beyond serious political or policy contemplation. Consequently, political fantasies abound that Africa’s ‘time that has come’ can be optimised without confronting the brutal and confusing realities of largely unmanaged processes of urbanisation in most of sub-Saharan Africa. Political denial finds uncanny support in limited critical work on the changing natures of African urbanisms” comments Pieterse.

Over the course of the past five years, Edgar Pieterse has maintained two tracks of collaborative enquiry into the nature, dynamics and theoretical import of Africa’s profound urban transition. The first focuses on the empirical dimensions of the urban transition and what it might mean for a variety of urban policy domains, ranging from infrastructure, to food security, post-conflict imperatives and mobility. One incarnation of this body of work is his recent co-edited volume, Africa’s Urban Revolution, published in early 2014.

The second track is more experimental and adaptive: convening a diverse range of artists, architects, planners, geographers, literary scholars and urbanists to explore the phenomenology of everyday urbanism in a variety of African urban contexts, without any expectation of arriving at definitive conclusions or agreement. This open-ended series of engagements has recently manifested in a co-edited volume, Rogue Urbanism: Emergent African Cities, published in 2013.

In this lecture, Africa’s Urban Revolution: Epistemic Adventures, Pieterse will explore the threads that connect these two lines of work, cueing his current research to establish an epistemic frame that can anchor the heterodox and radical knowledges and practices that will have to be conjured to puncture prevailing fantasies, and install alternative perspectives that are simultaneously more empirically grounded and imaginatively transformative.

Edgar Pieterse was awarded the South African Research Chair in Urban Policy in 2007, and is the Director of the African Centre for Cities, University of Cape Town. As an urbanist, he is deeply fascinated by the drama of cities everywhere and at different moments in time, including the future, the past and science fiction invocations. Simultaneously, he endeavours to remain grounded in the tough and messy realities of cities—invariably always on the move—working with materialist and aesthetic optics. His own work is grounded in two South African cities, Johannesburg and Cape Town, but he also tracks the fortunes of African cities as part of larger discourses on sustainable urban transitions and southern urbanism.

More recently he has become seduced by the power of the written word rubbed against visual registers of representation and interpretation. This stems from a related concern about how scholars and universities can do better to animate publics that can complicate and shape the city – constituencies outside of the academy that truly invoke “cityness”. These concerns have led to the creation of The African Cities Reader that he co-edits with Ntone Edjabe, and an international magazine on emergent urbanisms in the global South, Cityscapes. He is also co-curating an exhibition with Tau Tavengwa on “city divides / city desires” through the prism of Cape Town.

Pieterse is presently leading a team of experts working on an Urban Development Framework for South Africa. The draft policy is intended to lead to more coherent and effective urban regimes in South Africa over the next few years.

This lecture will take place on Wednesday 30 April at 17:30 at Hiddingh Hall, University of Cape Town (UCT) Hiddingh Campus, Orange Street, Cape Town; and is free. Refreshments will be served from 17:00; no booking is necessary. For more information, contact the GIPCA office on 021 480 7156 or

Edgar Pieterse audio recording available for download.

Venue: Hiddingh Hall

Address: Google Map UCT Hiddingh Campus, 31 Orange Street, Cape Town, 8001