Urban Forum

, Volume 26, Issue 2, pp 203–221 | Cite as

Competing for Knowledge: Leaders and Laggards of Bus Rapid Transit in South Africa

  • Astrid Wood


Building on the substantial body of literature on policy mobilities, this paper attends to the circulation of bus rapid transit (BRT) as it swept through South African cities to reconsider the power of the interactions between municipalities and their policy actors in the determination to adopt circulated forms of knowledge. Such debates deepen and widen the space through which policy flows by proposing that local competitive interactions and relationships shape the circulation process. The paper utilizes evidence of municipal diplomacy, which includes partisan contestation between rival parties, limited financial resources and insufficient technical expertise, to suggest that both governmental and personal alignments were the driving force for BRT adoption. It then goes on to provide evidence of the neglected opportunities to exchange knowledge across South African localities, outcomes indicative of wider political manoeuvrings. Unravelling the engagements across South African cities adds a critical dimension to understandings of urban policy mobilities by explaining why, and with what consequences, learning brings certain cities into conversation with one another while pushing others further apart. Under such instances, cities are not merely importers or exporters of policy but part of the wider system of power relations in which policy circulates. This application of policy circulation makes an important contribution to studies of the post-apartheid city by providing an alternative theorization of South African inter-urban hierarchies and relationality.


Bus rapid transit Inter-urban competition Policy mobilities South African urbanism 


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© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of GeographyUniversity College LondonLondonUK

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