This article examines the informal housing practices that the urban poor use to construct, transform, and access citizenship in contemporary South Africa. Following the election of Nelson Mandela in 1994, the provision of formalized housing for the urban poor has become a key metric for ‘non-racial’ political inclusion and the desegregation of apartheid cities. Yet, shack settlements—commemorated in liberation histories as apartheid-era battlegrounds—have been reclassified as ‘slums’, zones that are earmarked for clearance or development. Evictions from shack settlements to government emergency camps have been justified under the liberal logic of expanding housing rights tied to citizenship. I argue that the informal housing practices make visible the methods of managing ‘slum’ populations, as well as an emerging living politics in South African cities.
This article examines sacrifice in a post-Mandela South Africa. Twenty years since the fall of apartheid, South Africa remains one of the world’s most unequal societies. From street protests to labor strikes to xenophobic pogroms, dissatisfaction with current socio-economic conditions is being expressed through urban unrest, particularly in townships and shack settlements. This article analyzes an emerging idiom of “sacrifice” among youth activists in response to deaths and injuries sustained during recent street protests. I argue that this idiom draws from understandings of liberation and liberalization, popular imaginaries of the anti-apartheid struggle, and processes associated with the country’s transition to democracy. Broadly, I suggest that sacrifice under liberalization reveals the blurring boundaries between “the gift” and “the market” in political life. [Keywords: Sacrifice, politics, violence, poverty, liberalization]
This article combines theories of liberal governance, material life, and popular politics to examine the unruly force of fire in state-citizen struggles. Tracking interactions between state agents and activist networks during South Africa’s celebrated democratic transition, I analyze how the urban poor leverage the material properties of fire to secure techno-institutional claims to energy infrastructure, and more broadly to political inclusion and economic redistribution. I highlight how fire, as a social and historical as well as a chemical process, becomes a staging ground for the promise and endangerment of infrastructure. Approaching fire as intertwined with power, I argue, illuminates how those living on the margins of the city come to inhabit political roles that transform economic relationships in the context of liberalism.
There are many Nelson Mandelas: the communist, the chiefly authority and the constitutionalist, to name only a few. What has come into stark relief since his passing on December 5 is the unresolvable plurality that characterises Mandela’s life and legacy. In the American press, however, this plurality has been muted by two dominant figures: Mandela as icon and Mandela as sellout. As icon, Mandela is cast as a liberal saint, a heroic bearer of peace, forgiveness and the ballot box. So pervasive, this figure already has come under scrutiny, even by President Barack Obama, who received his most vocal cheers at Mandela’s funeral with a call to resist “such a lifeless portrait”. The second – at times a well-intentioned provocation to the first – posits Mandela as a liberal traitor, a compromised bearer of global capitalism, broken promises and continued de facto inequality. It is taken as critical realpolitik to mythic eulogising. Both, unfortunately, tend to tell a totalising, singular and unified biographical story to reflect a unified story of South Africa as a nation. Both, therefore, evacuate complex histories that inform the present. In this article, I propose a few of the ways the icon / sellout paradigms might be broken down.
Today the world, once again, is watching South Africa’s response to police violence. Emerging from a violent Apartheid past, the newly branded South African Police Services was meant to be a shining example of how best to protect law and order, while ensuring a free democratic society for all. However, recent events in Ficksburg, Marikana and Cato Crest shake the foundation of this vision.
These events demand a reinvigorated commitment by officials to act decisively against violent policing.