The Undervaluation, but Extreme Importance, of Social Sustainability in South Africa

  • Elizelle Juanee Cilliers


Almost every planning-related paper employs the increasing urbanisation figures and problematic impact of such, to substantiate research needs and approaches. This is especially true for the African content which often top the charts in terms of population growth. Accordingly, spatial planning recently became a tool to guide broader sustainability thinking and direct the planning of smart futures. Within this notion spatial planning, theoretically, often relates to the three dimensions of sustainability (economic, environmental and social) to find adequate planning solutions. In practice divergent scenarios are seen, where focus are often placed on economic- and environmental interventions, as easier implementable solutions, in comparison to more complex approaches related to social sustainability. This chapter therefore considers sustainability from a South African perspective, illustrating the unique social considerations that impacted on the results of various planning studies, arguing that despite social sustainability being less researched, it has the most prominent role to play in the African context. This finding is substantiated by reference to a literature review regarding the three dimensions of sustainability and relevance within local context, followed by a reflection on six individual studies conducted between 2014 and 2017 on diverse planning-related themes in South Africa. None of these cases aimed to investigate social issues, but findings illustrated deviations from theory, initiated by the unique social context. This chapter concluded on the importance of social sustainability as primary point of departure for realising broader sustainability in practice, referring to adequate knowledge and contextualisation of concepts, and the importance for context-based research in South Africa, acknowledging issues of status, safety and scale.


Social sustainability Context-based planning South Africa Status Safety Contextualisation 



The financial assistance of the National Research Foundation (NRF) towards this research is hereby acknowledged. Opinions expressed and conclusions arrived at are those of the authors and are not necessarily to be attributed to the NRF.


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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Urban and Regional Planning, Unit for Environmental Sciences and Management, North-West UniversityPotchefstroomSouth Africa

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