“The old north-south divide is fading – and new fissures are emerging”

The Tyne Bridges in 2001. Image: Getty.

The north of England is as much of a myth as a material reality. Its particular economic, political, social and geographic qualities give it a unique character, distinct from the south of England.

Since 1980s de-industrialisation, the north has been characterised as a region in decline. But this summer’s Great Exhibition of the North is redressing this perception, by promoting the region’s vibrant culture and putting the fruits of its current artistic renaissance on show.

Yet among the flurry of exhibitions, performances, concerts and installations for locals and visitors to see, hear and play with, it’s becoming clear that the old north-south divide is fading – and new fissures are emerging in its place.

The rivalry between north and south has deep historical roots, which continue to shape the attitudes of people in both regions today. From the military successes of southern kings in the Middle ages, to the economic triumph of the south from the early 20th century onwards, historians have portrayed the south as dominating the north. By the end of the 19th century, the “southern metaphor” for an idealised English identity – typified by imagery of a bucolic rural idyll and in marked contrast to the industrial associations of the north – had won out, and the north fell outside common perceptions of “authentic” England.

Today, southern views of northern character often view northern qualities as truculent, insensitive, unsophisticated, intrusive and parochial. By contrast, northerners typically see themselves as independent-minded, straight-talking, practical, friendly and meritocratic. Southerners, meanwhile, are viewed as privileged, wasteful, unfriendly and nepotistic.

Yet the very developments in the north’s creative and cultural industries, which are highlighted by the Great Exhibition of the North, also point to changes in England’s economic landscape. As a result, these deep-rooted and divisive stereotypes could soon become very dated indeed.

The southern North

Across most regions of the UK, the creative sector (which includes the design, software and digital, advertising, film, broadcasting, architecture, publishing, music and performing arts industries) have supplanted the service sector (banking and finance) to become the fastest growing business sector.

This is evident in the emergence of “creative clusters” – agglomerations of businesses, workers and other important institutions, such as universities and business networks, relating to the creative industries. Some 47 creative clusters have been identified across the UK, and it’s perhaps unsurprising – given London’s long-established prominence in the cultural industries – that around a third of these are located in London and south-east England.

England’s creative clusters, mapped. Image: Nesta.

Yet just over one-fifth of the nation’s creative clusters are located in the North – traditionally thought to lack the cultural prestige of the capital. A report by innovation foundation NESTA reveals strong connections between clusters which are geographically close to each other: for example, clusters in Bristol, Bath and Cardiff in the south-west, as well as those in Manchester, Leeds and Liverpool in the north.

Cities such as Sheffield to the east of Manchester, and south of Leeds, also feed into these northern clusters, together with towns including Warrington, Wigan, Chester, Crewe and Harrogate. This grouping strengthens the evidence for a distinctive “southern north” territory, independent from the “wider north” to be found to the south, east and north of this region (the Irish Sea in the west acts as a natural boundary).

The new divides

Manchester is one of Europe’s fastest growing cities, while Liverpool and Leeds are also experiencing substantial property development and regeneration. This rapid economic growth is coupled with a geographic remove from other creative clusters in the north, which are centred on Middlesbrough and Newcastle – 42 and 68 miles north of Harrogate respectively.

There are strong media production and arts facilities across the southern North region: the growth of the Yorkshire area film and TV industries has outstripped that of every other part of the UK. Screen Yorkshire is unambiguously the most commercially successful and critically acclaimed of the eight remaining English regional screen agencies.

This influence has tangible effects: most of what is seen of the north is captured in film, TV and pop music, which focus mainly on the former industrial heartlands of south Lancashire and west to south-west Yorkshire – probably because that’s where modern film and television industries are based. So it’s not just economically, but also culturally, that the southern North is rising to prominence on the national stage.

What’s more, experts suggest that the HS2 rail programme – which will reduce travel time between Manchester, Leeds, Sheffield and London – is likely to draw the southern North even further away from the influence of the wider north, and towards southern cities such as London.

The ConversationSo, as Newcastle and Gateshead continues with the hard-won honour of hosting the Great Exhibition of the North, it’s worth reflecting on the definition of that label. Clearly, there are significant variations in economic and cultural output within the north of England. Before our very eyes, a new north-south divide is emerging, within what was previously understood as “the north” itself.

Alan Hughes, Postdoctoral researcher, University of Central Lancashire and Peter Atkinson, Senior Lecturer and Course Leader, BA Film, Media and Popular Culture, University of Central Lancashire.

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.


In South Africa's cities, evictions are happening despite a national ban

An aerial view shows a destroyed house in Lawley, south of Johannesburg, on April 20, 2020. The city has been demolishing informal structures on vacant land despite a moratorium on evictions. (Marco Longari/AFP via Getty Images)

On the morning of 15 July, a South African High Court judge ruled that the city of Cape Town’s Anti-Land Invasion Unit had illegally evicted a man when it destroyed the shack where he was living.

That afternoon, the Anti-Land Invasion Unit was out again, removing shacks in another informal settlement.

Evictions were banned in South Africa for nine weeks, after the national government placed the country under a strict Covid-19 lockdown in late March. At present, eviction orders are automatically suspended until the country moves to a lower “alert level” and can only be carried out with a special order from a judge.

Yet major cities including Cape Town, Johannesburg and eThekwini (created through the merger of Durban with several surrounding communities), have continued to use municipal law enforcement agencies and private security companies to remove people from informal housing. In many cases those operations have been conducted without a court order – something required under regular South African law.

Around 900 people were evicted from three informal settlements in eThekwini during the eviction ban, according to the Church Land Programme, a local NGO. Its director, Graham Philpott, says it’s also aware of evictions in other informal settlements.

While evictions aren’t a “new experience” in these communities, the NGO released a report on lockdown evictions because they were “so explicitly illegal”. “There was a moratorium in place,” Philpott says, “and the local municipality acted quite flagrantly against it. There’s no confusion, there’s no doubt whatsoever, it is illegal. But it is part of a trend where the eThekwini municipality has acted illegally in evicting the poor from informal settlements.”

Evictions also took place in Cape Town and Johannesburg during so-called “hard lockdown” according to local activists. In eThekwini and other municipalities, the evictions have continued despite restrictions. In Cape Town, authorities pulled a naked man, Bulelani Qholani, from his shack. That incident, which was captured on video, drew condemnation from the national government and four members of the Anti-Land Invasion unit were suspended. 

The cities say they’re fighting “land invasions” – illegal occupations without permission from the land owner.

“Land invasions derail housing and service projects, lead to the pollution of waterways, severely prejudice deserving housing beneficiaries and cause property owners to lose their investments over night,” Cape Town’s executive mayor, Dan Plato said in a statement. (Plato has also claimed that Qholani did not live in the shack he was pulled from and that he disrobed when municipal authorities arrived.)

South African municipalities often claim that the shacks they destroy are unoccupied. 

If they were occupied, says Msawakhe Mayisela, a spokesman for the eThekwini municipality, the city would get a court order before conducting an eviction. “Everything we’re doing is within the ambit of the law,” Mayisela says. But “rogue elements” are taking advantage of Covid-19, he added.

“We fully understand that people are desperately in need of land, but the number of people that are flocking to the cities is too much, the city won’t be able to provide housing or accommodation for everyone overnight,” he says. 

While eThekwini claims to be a caring city, local activists say the evictions show otherwise.

In one case, 29 women were evicted from shacks during the hard lockdown. With nowhere to go, they slept in an open field and were arrested by the South African Police Service for violating the lockdown, Philpott says.

“These evictions are dehumanizing people whose dignity is already compromised in many ways,” says S’bu Zikode, the president of Abahlali baseMjondolo, a community organization whose Zulu name translates to “the people of the shacks”. 

“It has reminded us that we are the people that do not count in our society.”

Municipal law enforcement and private security contractors hired by cities regularly fire rubber bullets, or even live ammunition, at residents during evictions. Some 18 Abahlali baseMjondolo activists have been killed since the organization was founded in 2005, Zikode says, most by the eThekwini Land Invasion Unit and Metro Police.

(Mayisela says that if city employees have broken the law, Abahlali baseMjondolo can file a complaint with the police. “There is no conclusive evidence to the effect that our members have killed them,”  he says.)

Other Abahlali baseMjondolo activists have been killed by what Zikode calls “izinkabi,” hitmen hired by politicians. Two eThekwini city councillors were sentenced to life in prison 2016 after they organized the killing of Thuli Ndlovu, an Abahlali baseMjondolo organizer. A member of the Land Invasion Unit who is currently facing a charge of attempted murder after severely injuring a person during an eviction remains on the job, Zikode says.

South Africa’s 1996 constitution is intended to protect the public from arbitrary state violence and guarantees a right to housing, as well as due process in evictions. But for Zikode, the South African constitution is a “beautiful document on a shelf”.

“For the working class and the poor, it’s still difficult to have access to court. You’ve got to have money to get to court,” he says. 

The actions by municipal law enforcement are breaking down social trust, says Buhle Booi, a member of the Khayelitsha Community Action Network, a community group in the largest township in Cape Town.

“There’s a lack of police resources and those very few police resources that they have, they use to destroy people’s homes, to destroy people’s peace, rather than fighting crime, real criminal elements that we see in our society,” Booi says.

For him, it’s a continuation of the practices of the colonial and apartheid governments, pushing poor people, most of whom are Black, to the periphery of cities.

Around one-fifth of South Africa’s urban population live in shacks or informal dwellings, according to a 2018 report by SERI. Many more live in substandard housing. City governments maintain that the shacks destroyed during anti-land invasion operations are unfinished and unoccupied. But Edward Molopi, a research and advocacy officer at SERI, says that this claim is an attempt to escape their legal obligations to get a court order and to find alternative accommodation for affected people. 

The roots of the current eviction crisis go back to apartheid, which barred non-white people from living in cities. Between the 1940s and 1970s, tens of thousands of people were forcibly relocated from neighbourhoods like Johannesburg’s Sophiatown and Cape Town’s District Six to remote townships.

In the 26 years following the end of apartheid, deepening economic inequality and rampant unemployment have limited access to formal housing for millions of South Africans. Government housing programs have mostly focused on building small stand-alone homes, often on the peripheries of cities far from jobs and amenities.

While these well-intentioned projects have built millions of homes, they’ve failed to keep up with demand, says Marie Huchzermeyer, a professor at the Centre for Urbanism & Built Environment Studies at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg. Government-funded housing projects “will never on it’s own be enough,” she says. “It has to be accompanied by land release.”

Government policies call for the “upgrading” of informal settlements and the formalization of residents’ occupation. But “there are still very, very, very few projects” of that nature in South Africa, Huchzermeyer says. “Even if it’s an informal settlement that’s been around for 20 years, there still seems to be a political wish to punish people for having done that.” The government wants people to go through the formal process of being given a house, she says – and for them to be thankful to the government for providing it.

At the municipal level, change will require “real leadership around informal settlement upgrading and around ensuring that land is available for people to occupy,” she says. 

Despite the end of enforced racial segregation, spacial apartheid remains a factor in South Africa. There are few mixed-income neighbourhoods. Those who can afford to often live behind walls in sprawling low-density suburbs, while the poor live in overcrowded slums and apartment buildings.

The creation of the apartheid city “didn't happen by chance,” says Amira Osman, a professor of architecture at the Tshwane University of Technology. “It was a deliberate, structured approach to the design of the city. We need a deliberate, structured approach that will undo that.”

Since last fall, Johannesburg’s Inclusionary Housing Policy has required developments of 20 or more units to set aside 30% of those units for low-income housing.

The policy, which faced significant opposition from private developers, won’t lead to dramatic change, says Sarah Charlton, a professor at the Centre for Urbanism and Built Environment Studies, but it is “an important and significant step.”

Zikode isn’t optimistic that change will come for shack dwellers, however.

“People in the high positions of authority pretend that everything is normal,” he says. “They pretend that everyone is treated justly, they pretend that everyone has homes with running water, that everyone has a piece of land – and hide the truth and the lies of our democracy.”

Jacob Serebrin is a freelance journalist currently based in Johannesburg. Follow him on Twitter.