This paper provides an overview of the challenge of spatial reconfiguration facing South Africa. Set against a brief overview of the key aspects of the post apartheid urban policy milieu that, notwithstanding significant tensions within the ruling party, gave rise to a cabinet level policy commitment to a National Spatial Development Perspective (NSDP). The paper reflects on three key themes. The first issue outlined in the paper is the massive demographic shift that is taking place that underpins the development challenge. In particular trends in the process of population growth, labour market change and urbanization are summarized. Second, given the dominance of Africans in urban spaces, the paper outlines how efforts to achieve racial integration have erroneously focused on rural over urban development. A distinction is drawn between traditionalist pro-African views that give preferences to rural spending and modernist views that articulate an overly non-racial discourse that embraces a shift to urban development. Finally we argue that the failure of spatial planning as proposed by the NSDP was not inevitable, despite real flaws in the policy and its execution. The dithering on spatial policy that surrounded the NSDP must be understood as the outcome of political contestation within the ruling party and a misplaced conflation of the categories of rural and African.