Brown and Green in Durban: The Evolution of Environmental Policy in a Post‐Apartheid City


This article concerns the politics of environmental policy as it has been evolving in the South African city of Durban. How has the end of apartheid impacted on environmental issues and concerns? Since 1994 (actually 1996 from the standpoint of local government), the transition to democracy has brought about a shift from purely green policy to the growing salience of what we may call brown issues. The article first considers the elements of what we would now denote as environmental policy under the old regime and then outlines the policy shifts in recent years. The second half of the article looks at what have emerged as the most significant policy issues with regard to the environment, the future of the South Coast Industrial Basin, the environmental concerns that arise from the construction of new housing settlements and (more briefly) debates about the future of the Bay of Natal and some of the issues at play in the development of an integrated social health policy. With South Africa’s emergence from isolation, international mandates for environmental controls and planning have been formally adopted; this article argues that the actual application of policy from word to deed is another matter. Democratization has opened up debates and created a far healthier climate for the discussion of urban issues, but formal institutional and procedural changes are far from sufficient to ensure new approaches on the ground. The presence or absence of effective environmental lobbying from community organizations and of environmental champions within the bureaucracy are critical factors. The planning process in Durban, inevitably subject to immediate political pressures, is still far from achieving the more holistic ambition of integrating environmental and developmental concerns.