Zarina Patel

Role/Position: Senior ACC lecturer and Cape Town director for Mistra Urban Futures Email:

I currently hold a joint appointment as a senior lecturer with the African Centre for Cities (ACC) and the Department of Environmental and Geographical Sciences at the University of Cape Town. At the ACC, I direct Cape Town’s participation in the Mistra Urban Futures (MUF) Programme. This programme seeks to identify alternative sustainability transition pathways through the co-production of knowledge between city governments and universities. Cape Town’s MUF programme focuses on making local sustainability policy more legible and defensible, by exploring the role and nature of knowledge required for urban transitions.


Prior to moving to UCT, I was appointed a senior lecturer at the School of Geography, Archaeology and Environmental Sciences at the University of Witwatersrand, and held a British Academy Fellowship in the Geography Department at the University of Sheffield. Other academic positions include a Junior Research Fellowship at the School of Social and Development Studies at the University of Natal. Non-academic appointments include being part of the project management for an IUCN-GEF funded initiative – Greening the World Summit for Sustainable Development (WSSD); researcher based at the City of Durban for the International Council for Local Environmental Initiatives (ICLEI); and environmental scientist at the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR).  I have sat on the Boards of various environmental NGOs and statutory bodies in South Africa, and continue to serve on the Editorial Board of Local Environment: International Journal of Justice and Sustainability.


The political dimensions of policy and governance arrangements in pursuit of urban sustainable development has been a key focus of my research. My publications have contributed to debates on the role of institutions, governance and decision-making and the implications this holds for achieving environmental justice. Central to my research is the uncovering of ways in which power is exercised through the use of specific and multiple knowledges and the range of value-based assumptions held by decision makers. My postgraduate supervision has included the application of this framework in recent research on flood risk management, drawing out lessons for understanding resilience in the global South. An emerging strand of my research traces the political geographies of environmental governance and the changing roles of the state and non-state actors in urban climate governance.


Accredited Publications

Journal Articles:

Davison, A., Patel, Z., and Greyling, S. Tackling wicked problems and tricky transitions: Change and continuity in Cape Town’s Environmental Policy Landscape. Local Environment: International Journal of Justice and Sustainability (accepted, in press). 

Patel, Z., Greyling, S. Parnell, S., Pirie, G. 2015. Co-producing urban knowledge: experimenting with an alternative to ‘best practice’ for Cape Town, South Africa. International Development Planning Review, 37(2) pp. 187-203.

James, A.K., Rose, J.T., and Patel, Z. 2015. Contesting the Edge: Analysing environmental decision making as it is represented in the media. South African Geographical Journal DOI: 10.1080/03736245.2015.1028979

Arendse, W. and Patel, Z. 2014. ‘No Messing in Bonteheuwel’: The role of social capital and partnership building in sustainable community development. Town and Regional Planning, 65 pp. 1-10.

Patel, Z. 2014. South Africa’s Three Waves of Environmental Policy: (Mis)Aligning the goals of Sustainable Development, Environmental Justice and Climate Change. Geography Compass 8(3) pp.169-181.

Lawhon, M and Patel, Z. 2013. Scalar politics and local sustainability: rethinking governance and justice in an era of political and environmental change. Environment and Planning C: Government and Policy 31(6) pp. 1048-1062.

Fatti, C. and Patel, Z. 2013. Perceptions and responses to urban flood risk: Implications for climate governance in the South. Applied Geography, 36 pp.13-22.

Mwalukomo, H and Patel, Z. 2012. Chieftaincy and Democratic Local Governance in rural South Africa: Implications for Natural Resource Management. Development Southern Africa, 29(2) pp.259-272.

Long, D, and Patel, Z. 2011. A new theory for an age-old problem: Ecological Modernisation and the production of nuclear energy in South Africa. South African Geographical Journal, 93(2) pp.191-205.

Patel, Z. 2009. Environmental Justice in South Africa: Tools and Tradeoffs. Social Dynamics. pp.94-110.

Koch, I., Vogel, C., Patel, Z. 2007. Institutional dynamics of climate change adaptation in South Africa. Mitigation and Adaptation Strategies for Global Change 12 pp.1323-1339.

Patel, Z. 2006. Of Questionable Value? The role of practitioners in building sustainable cities.  Geoforum 37pp.682-694.

Patel, Z. 2006. Editorial: Africa, a continent of hope? Local Environment: International Journal of Justice and Sustainability Special Issue ‘Sustainability: Local Action in Africa’ 11(1)pp.7-15.

Van der Merwe, C.D., and Patel, Z. 2005. Understandings of urban regeneration, heritage and environmental justice at Constitution Hill, Johannesburg. Urban Forum 16(2-3)pp.244-258.

Patel, Z. 2005. Understanding environmental change in South African cities: A landscape approach.  Transformation 57pp. 24-40.

Patel, Z. 2003.  Pouvoir, Espace et Peripherisation en Matiere de Decision Environnementale: le cas de Durban-Sud. Les Temps Modernes Annee 58(623) pp. 252-272.

Hamann, R., Patel, Z., and Pressend, M., 2002. Competing Visions and Conflicting Priorities: A Southern African Perspective on the World Summit.  Environment Vol 44(6) pp.8-21.

Patel, Z.  2000.  Re-thinking Sustainable Development in the post-apartheid reconstruction of South African Cities.  Local Environment, Vol 5(4) pp. 383-399.

Oelofse, C. and Patel, Z. 2000.  Falling through the net:  sustainability in Clermont township, Durban.  South African Geographical Journal, Vol 82 (2) pp.35-43.

Patel, Z.  1996.  The ‘Brown Agenda’: Environment and Development in Cato Manor.  Indicator South Africa, 13(3), pp. 84-88.

Patel, Z.  1996.  Women and Environmental Management.  Agenda, (29), pp. 66-71.

Morris, M., Patel, Z., and Byerley, M.  1996.  Violence and Sustainable Development in the Durban Metropolitan Area.  Urban Forum 7(2), pp. 183-202.


Chapters in peer-reviewed books:

Smit, W., Lawhon M, and Patel, Z.,. 2015. Co-producing knowledge for whom, and to what end? Reflections from the African Centre for Cities in Cape Town. In: Ed. M. Polk. Co-producing knowledge for sustainable cities: Joining forces for change. London: Routledge, London, pp.47-69.

Patel, Z and van der Merwe, C. 2013. Constitution Hill: Just Space or Space of Justice? In Temple, N., Tobe, R., and Simon, J. (eds) Architecture and Justice: Judicial Investigations. London: Ashgate pp. 115-130.

Patel, Z.  2008. Tools and Tradeoffs in environmental decision making. In Parnell, S., Pieterse, E., Swilling, M., Wooldridge, D., and van Donk, M. (eds) The Developmental Local State: Lessons from Theory and Practice. Cape Town: UCT Press pp.357-376.

van der Merwe, C.D., and Patel, Z. 2007. Understandings of urban regeneration, heritage and environmental justice at Constitution Hill, Johannesburg. In Rogerson, C.R. and Visser, G. (eds) Urban Tourism in the Developing World. New Brunswick, NJ and London: Transaction Press pp.293-306.

Patel, Z. 2004. Environmental Values and the Building of Sustainable Communities. In Pieterse, E. and Meintjies, F. (eds) Voices of the Transition:  Perspectives on the Politics, Poetics and Practices of Development. Johannesburg: Heinemann Publishers pp. 282-292.

Hindson, D. and Patel, Z.  1999.  Sustainable Development in South African Cities:  Searching for a new approach.  In Gervais, P, Jaglin, S, and Mabin, A. (eds.)  La question urbaine en Afrique australe; perspective de recherche.  IFAS and Karthala: Johannesburg and Paris, pp. 259-285.

Lund, F and Patel, Z.  1995.  Socio-economic Context of Health.  South African Annual Health Review, Health Systems Trust, and the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation, Durban, pp. 17-26.


Teaching and Supervision

My teaching is based on the premise that there is no single correct answer. I consider the unpacking of assumptions and the asking of varying sets of questions of the world around us as the basis for intellectual flourishing.


I have taught extensively at both the undergraduate and postgraduate level primarily at the University of Natal (Development Studies); University of the Witwatersrand (Geography) and University of Cape Town (Environmental and Geographical Sciences) – on topics varying from Sustainable Cities (UG), Global Environmental Governance (UG), Environmental Decision Making (UG), Environment and Development (PG), Philosophical Concepts in Geography (PG), Qualitative Methods (PG) and Environmental Policy and Practice (PG).


I have supervised numerous honours and masters short dissertations, as well as 3 masters by research, and 1 PhD.


  • Anna Taylor, Zarina Patel

    Adapting to a changing climate in Southern Africa

    This short film captures the key messages and debates emerging from the first Southern Africa Adaptation Colloquium, held in November 2013 and co-hosted by Mistra Urban Futures Cape Town platform’s Climate Change Think Tank, a partnership within the Knowledge Transfer Programme. Members of the partnership include The University of Cape Town’s African Climate and Development […]