Tariq Toffa

Tariq Toffa — Cape Town and Johannesburg Community Manager


After the transition to democracy from the apartheid era in 1994, an ambitious post-apartheid housing initiative was implemented in South Africa to provide formal housing for those denied it under apartheid.

However, the simplest and cheapest policy has been to locate this housing on the urban peripheries (typically over 20km away in the case of Johannesburg's or Pretoria's economic centres) — thus creating an alarming parody of apartheid-spatial planning in locating former black townships in marginal locations far from economic opportunities, amenities, and public transport. This has not only compelled people residing in these areas to use much of their income on transportation but, moreover, the dispersion perpetuates a marginal urban form which increases the burden placed on the city's financial models and its already depleted and over-extended infrastructure networks.

The quantitative successes of housing provision and service delivery aside (to date, 3.3 million state-subsidised 'RDP housing' units have been built since 1994); the 'softer' democratic project of transcending former spatial, racial, and psychological barriers between South Africans, of engaging 'difference', toward building a "united and non-racial South Africa," have fallen well short and appear to be an increasingly marginalised discourse in favour of other 'hard' priorities. Notwithstanding such developments, foregrounding difference is no less relevant today than it was in the days of the iconic Mandela era. Degrees of xenophobia are today increasingly common in Johannesburg. In an extreme case in 2008, the city was rocked by xenophobic violence signaling a red flag to the neglect of issues of social integration.

The priorities of delivery and development should not preclude difference. The social function of infrastructure is a pursuit of which diverse and unequal cities should not lose sight.

Cape Town and Johannesburg community manager Tariq Toffa is an architect, researcher, and writer based in Johannesburg. He is the Executive Manager at SHiFT (Social Housing Focus Trust), an NGO which provides expertise on the role and design of housing in transforming the built environment. He also lectures at the Faculty of Art, Design and Architecture (FADA) of the University of Johannesburg (UJ). He completed his professional architectural studies at the University of Cape Town (UCT), holds a Masters in architectural research from the University of the Witwatersrand (WITS), and studied religious and constitutional law at the University of KwaZulu-Natal (UKZN).