Extended urbanisation of the GCR: gender, commuting, migration and belonging

  • Masters Students on The Politics, Economics and Governance of Extended Urbanisation course, University of the Witwatersrand, and UCL, City Co-Labs module, MASc Global Urbanism

  • Date of publication: 08 August 2023
  • Download map


During the first half of 2023, Masters students from Wits (School of Architecture and Planning) and University College London (Urban Laboratory) participated in a joint course on extended urbanisation (Figure 1). Senior academics from the two universities collaborated to design and teach a joint module for the UCL MASc Global Urbanism programme and Wits MSc in Urban and Regional Planning. The topic was inspired by the recent emergence of scholarship on extended urbanisation, which considers the way in which spaces beyond the apparent edge of cities are in fact very much part of the urban relationships extending from the city, and is also potentially developing into self-sustaining urban areas (Schmid, 2020). For their main assignment course participants were invited to analyse this theme using GCRO’s data. This month’s article showcases three maps produced by the course participants: first, a gendered mapping of commuting to work from nine peripheral areas (Figure 2); second, a map showing the percentage of people in each ward across the city region who have to commute for more than one hour to work (Figure 3); and third, a map showing the percentage of people in each ward who consider their neighbourhood to be home (Figure 4).

The maps were based on two GCRO Quality of Life datasets: The first was GCRO’s Quality of Life Survey 6 (2020/21) which interviewed a total of 13 616 adults across the province. The second was the Peripheries Survey (2019) which applied the Quality of Life survey instrument to approximately 900 respondents, 100 from each of nine areas: Freedom Park informal settlement, Freedom Park RDP, Platinum Village and Lefaragatlha-Bobuampsa in Rustenburg (see Inset 1 on Figure 2); Mabopane and Soshanguve in Gauteng (Inset 2); Kwaggafontein, KwaMhlanga and Phola Park in the former KwaNdebele bantustan (Inset 3).

Fig 1.png

Figure 1: Wits (Planning) and UCL (Urban Laboratory) group of Masters students, their lecturers and others in KwaMhlanga. They are at the Manala-Mbongo headquarters, under Ingwenyama Makhosoke II (in the centre). On the left of the photo is Mr. Mike Bhengu from the Department of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs. Photo by Jennifer Robinson.

Male-female journeys to work

Authors: Lingxi Chen, Huitong Liu, Trevor Mantshoane, Lindokuhle Matshika, Thabisile Matubatuba, Mindy Ng, Sihle Pasurayia and Jen Storan

Map: Mindy Ng

The first group of students produced a report entitled ‘Women and Work at Gauteng’s Peripheries’, which addresses the gendered nature of commuting. The report examines the results from the 2019 survey of nine case study areas in the peripheries of the GCR. These are examples of areas that developed in the context of segregationist policies that prevented black/African people from settling more centrally. Today the demographic composition of these settlements reflects the gendered nature of employment opportunities (see Peberdy, forthcoming). Settlements near the mining activities of Rustenburg (particularly Freedom Park RDP settlement and Freedom Park informal settlement) have a higher proportion of men, while the other sites had more women than men. Women in these areas are less likely to have paid work and also less likely to be self-employed than women in metropolitan areas. Although many respondents were unemployed and therefore did not commute to work, Figure 2 explores the gendered differences amongst those who do.

Commuting patterns in each settlement were strongly shaped by proximate economic opportunities and the gendered nature of the job market. The detailed maps of Figure 2a shows that many residents in the settlements of Lefaragatlha-Bobuampsa (A), Freedom Park RDP (B), Freedom Park informal (C), and Platinum Village (D) commuted a relatively short distance to Rustenburg (E), with the employment of men in mining being an important part of these flows. By contrast, commuters from Mabopane (F), Soshanguve (G), KwaMhlanga (H), Phola Park (I), and Kwaggafontein (J) do not have the benefit of major employers nearby. Many, particularly women, commute to Pretoria (K) and its surrounding suburbs. Even longer commutes to Midrand (L) and Johannesburg (M) were mainly by men. Across the sample, more men than women are making journeys of longer than 35 km. However, interestingly, the average commuting time across all the peripheral areas surveyed was longer for women, at 39 minutes, than it was for men at 36 minutes. In some places, women’s mean travel time was significantly longer. For example, in Mabopane the average time to work for women was 53 minutes compared to 44 minutes for men.

Work trips by gender 31.07.png

Figure 2: Map of the most frequent trips made by respondents who indicated their purpose of travel was “to work” or “to look for work” (N=471).

2a Work trips by gender inserts 04.08.23.png

Figure 2a: Detailed maps of commutes out of the nine case study areas separated by gender.

Travel times to work and to look for work

Authors: Matthew Martignoni, Tunisia Cassim, Ke Jiang, Thabisile Matubatuba, Mashaka Ramulongo, Xiaoxun Shi, Chunyan Zhao.

Map: Matthew Martignoni

The second group also examined commuting in their report ‘Mobility, commutes, and employment in the GCR’s peripheries’. They used the 2019 Peripheries survey and the 2020/21 Qol 6 survey to calculate the percentage of those in each ward travelling for work or to look for work, for more than one hour. The province-wide survey occurred from September 2020 to May 2021 when commuting was suppressed by COVID and its associated lockdowns, but also made more difficult as some transport modes such as train services had been shut down. The data allows us to see at a glance the areas where higher proportions of people commute for more than an hour (Figure 2). The map highlights the extremely long daily commutes that define life for many people in the peripheries. In areas around Mabopane (F, in inset 2), for example, more than 60% of commuters travel more than an hour to work or to look for work. This map corroborates Figure 2 by showing that less than 20% of commuters in the Rustenburg settlements (A, B, C, D, in inset 1) travel for more than an hour to get to work or to look for jobs.

3 Commuting hour 03.08.23.png

Figure 3: Percentage of commuters travelling more than one hour for work or to look for work.

Feelings of belonging to place

Authors: Joe Post, PeiTsen Chiang, Ripfumelo Makondo, Nhlalala Shibambu, Yining Wang and Qingyue Yu.

Map: Joe Post

The third group explored survey respondents’ sense of belonging as part of their broader investigation of ‘Income-driven migration patterns in Gauteng and peripheral regions’. In order to determine the relationship between migration and belonging, the group created a map from the QoL question “When you think of 'home', are you thinking of this neighbourhood, somewhere else in Gauteng, somewhere in another province, or somewhere in another country?”. They mapped the percentage of respondents who said: “this neighbourhood” (Figure 3). In those wards shaded light and dark blue, more than 60% of respondents stated that they considered their neighbourhood to be home. These included diverse kinds of neighbourhoods, ranging from affluent suburbs of major cities to rural wards on the periphery.

In those wards shaded orange or red, less than 60% of respondents said that they considered the neighbourhood that they lived in to be home. These included the downtown areas of inner city Johannesburg (M) and Pretoria (K), and townships such as Tembisa (to the right of L). It is notable that in the extended GCR peripheries, the residents of Platinum Village (D) (inset 1) have a strong sense of belonging, which may be because they are mortgage homeowners. In contrast, in the neighbouring areas of Freedom Park RDP (B) and Freedom Park informal (C), residents, who are working on the mines or elsewhere in the area, express lower levels of feeling at home. The group explored these results with respect to the ‘double-rootedness’ of labour migrants in South Africa (Bank et al. 2020), where labour migrants often live on a temporary basis in urban areas but contribute to building a family home elsewhere, often through accessing traditional land rights.

Neighbourhood home 31.07.png

Figure 4: Percentage of respondents in each ward who said that they considered their neighbourhood to be home.


Aspects of the analysis undertaken by the UCL and Wits students will be explored in more detail in future map of the month articles. Furthermore, this work is strongly connected to the GCRO research project on the ‘landscapes of peripheral and displaced urbanisms’ (Mosiane, et al., forthcoming). This project uses the idea of ‘landscape’ to analyse different kinds of places in the extended city-region, going beyond understandings of peripheries as defined by apartheid era forms of ‘displaced urbanisation’ (Mosiane and Götz, 2022). The research suggests that urban places are consolidating on the peripheries of the GCR, where people are making homes and finding work. Our forthcoming publications will consider this varied peripheral landscape, including places considered urban, different kinds of peripheries, some historically displaced while others are ‘not-so-urban and not-so-rural’. The students’ work profiled above, and the GCRO’s evolving landscapes project, draws on and in turn contributes to scholarship that sets out to analyse the entire urbanised territory of a region, with its gradual and sudden changes, as well as its dynamic centralities and peripheries (Howe, 2022; Meth, et al., 2021; Schmid, 2020). Rather than assuming the urban core as a starting point, in order to explain the broader processes driving urbanisation this scholarship argues for a decentred analysis of urbanising territories, including those that extend beyond the apparent city edge.

Acknowledgements from the students

The authors and map makers thank GCRO colleagues for their generosity and patience in supporting the team to understand the processes of urbanisation in Gauteng, and to advise on accessing and using the GCRO data. Graeme Götz, Dr Ngaka Mosiane and Dr Richard Ballard gave generously of their time and insights; Dr Sally Peberdy carefully explained her analysis of the GCRO peripheries data; and Dr Mncedisi Siteleki at Wits gave very patient and expert technical support. We also thank Taki Sithagu of the Wits School of Architecture and Planning for generously sharing her work on the Moloto Corridor with us and for guiding us on our visit there, Prof Fana Sihlongonyana, Prof Phil Harrison, Prof Alison Todes and Prof Sarah Charlton of Wits University for their extensive input and advice, as well as Prof Jennifer Robinson and Dr Njogu Morgan of UCL for their support in preparing this work. Thanks to Ngaka Mosiane, Jennifer Murray and Richard Ballard for producing this final version of our work.


Bank, L., Posel, D. and Wilson, F. (2020). ‘Introduction: migrant labour after apartheid’, in L. Bank, D. Posel, and F. Wilson (eds) Migrant labour after apartheid: the inside story. Cape Town: HSRC Press. pp 1-23.

GCRO (Gauteng City-Region Observatory). (2020/21). Quality of Life Survey 6.

GCRO (Gauteng City-Region Observatory). (2019). Survey of selected peripheral areas in the Gauteng City-Region, unpublished.

Howe, L.B. (2022), Processes of Peripheralisation: Toehold and Aspirational Urbanisation in the GCR. Antipode, 54: 1803-1828. https://doi.org/10.1111/anti.12844

Meth, P., Goodfellow, T., Todes, A., and Charlton, S. (2021). Conceptualizing African Urban Peripheries. International Journal of Urban and Regional Research, p. 985-100. DOI:10.1111/1468-2427.1304.

Mosiane, N., and Götz, G. (2022). Displaced urbanisation or displaced urbanism? Rethinking development in the peripheries of the GCR. GCRO Provocation #08, Gauteng City-Region Observatory, April 2022. DOI: 10.36634/SVRW2580

Mosiane, N., Murray, J. Peberdy, S., Dzerefos, C., Sithagu, A., Modiba, M. (forthcoming). Landscapes of peripheral and displaced urbanisms. Report of the Gauteng City-Region Observatory, Johannesburg.

Peberdy, S. (forthcoming). Complexities of peripheral spaces. In Mosiane, N., Murray, J. Peberdy, S., Dzerefos, C., Sithagu, A. Landscapes of peripheral and displaced urbanisms. Report of the Gauteng City-Region Observatory, Johannesburg.

Schmid, C. (2020): Analysing extended urbanisation: a territorial approach. In: Nancy Couling and Carola Hein, The Urbanisation of the Sea. Rotterdam: nai010 publishers, 93-105. Free download at: https://books.bk.tudelft.nl/press/catalog/view/778/888/854

Map design: Jennifer Murry.


The GCRO sends out regular news to update subscribers on our research and events.