What are the main drivers of urban violence in the global South? Through the Safe and Inclusive Cities Programme, the International Development Research Centre (IDRC) together with the British Department for International Development (DfID) funds a range of research projects in Sub-Saharan Africa, Latin America and South Asia that look at the main causes of urban violence and how these are related to poverty and inequality. The programme aims to address key gaps in knowledge on the issue and test the effectiveness of violence reduction theories, strategies, and interventions in the global South.
Four of the researchers from South Africa, India and Brazil presented preliminary findings and drew lessons for South Africa at a seminar on the 24th of April 2015 at the Wits School of Governance in Johannesburg. The seminar was co-hosted by the GIZ Inclusive Violence and Crime Prevention (VCP) Programme, the Wits School of Governance’s Public Safety Programme and the IDRC.
Social cohesion: The missing link in overcoming violence and inequality?
The role of social cohesion in the cycle of inequality, poverty and violence is the focus of a research project that seeks to understand how community social networks affect urban violence in Cape Town and Rio de Janeiro. Derek Davids from the Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC) presented preliminary findings from research in Khayelitsha where the project explores the effects of the Violence Prevention through Urban Upgrading (VPUU) programme on the community.
While levels of violent crime remain high in the township, there is no monolithic 'culture of violence'. Violence is rather driven by complex forms of social attitudes, cohesion and division as well as an ambiguous relation to the state and its role. For example, the research found strong solidarity within certain groups – e.g. amongst informal traders or neighbours. Their willingness to intervene on each other's behalf can result in violent inter-group conflicts.
This points to an overall weak and fragmented social cohesion within Khayelitsha. With regards to the effects of urban upgrading, the research findings indicate that VPUU has created important public spaces and social amenities – but that a continuing challenge lies in unlocking and sustaining their social potential.
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Assessing the impact of state-community collaboration to address urban violence in South Africa
Themba Masuku from the Centre for the Study of Violence and Reconciliation (CSVR) presented findings from a research project that focuses on the relationship between populations affected by violence and local government, police, development agencies, and community stakeholders. According to Masuku, there needs to be a shift from working for communities to working with them because this can help build their capacity to deal with violence, conflict and divisions.
The research project looks at the Community Work Programme (CWP), a government-sponsored income security and community development programme aimed at alleviating poverty by providing community members with temporary work opportunities. The CSVR’s research aims to contribute to conceptualising interventions that harness the CWP's potential to work with communities in ways that help uplift them and reduce violence.
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Understanding non-violent male identities for safe and inclusive cities (Brazil and Mozambique)
Taylor pointed out that while the main perpetrators of this violence are poor men, they are also often its victims. Therefore there is a growing recognition among practitioners for the need to better understand masculinities. This project explores how gender-transformative programmes can be developed with men to strengthen their role as providers of urban security and violence prevention. To this end, the Instituto Promundo works in Rio de Janeiro to promote caring, non-violent, equitable masculinities and gender relations.
The project's preliminary findings suggest a number of factors that promote non-violent behaviour among men: care-giving relationships e.g. of parent(s) or with own children helps break the inter-generational transfer of violence, close connections with someone who openly resists violence, participation in supportive peer/colleague groups as well as outward-looking, reflective thinking.
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Poverty, inequality, and violence in urban India: Towards more inclusive urban planning (India)
Finally, Renu Desai from the Indian Centre for Urban Equity presented a research project that investigates how urban planning can help reduce urban tensions, conflicts, inequalities, and violence in four major Indian cities. Similar to South Africa, India is characterised by high levels of inequality, poverty and unemployment. Yet India has much lower rates of homicide and violent interpersonal crime than South Africa. Instead, violence tends to be expressed in conflicts over resources (such as water or land), between vendors or as ethnic conflicts.
The project aims to explore the urban poor’s survival strategies and their efforts to push for more appropriate urban planning solutions. In this way, the research team is assessing how urban planning could lead to more inclusive and safer cities in India.
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Most of the SAIC research projects will finish within the next six to twelve months. If you are interested in the results, or would like to find more information on the IDRC Safe and Inclusive Cities Programme, please visit