“Such Elements Do Not Belong in an Ordered Society”: Managing Rural-Urban Resettlement in Democratic South Africa

Zachary Levenson, Florida International University

In South Africa, the pace and extent of rural-urban resettlement after apartheid continue to overwhelm the capacity of the government to house city-dwellers in need of shelter. But the legitimacy of the post-apartheid government rests on its ability to secure the rights of citizens who enjoy Constitutional guarantees, including the right to housing. Since the government cannot simply repress this unhoused surplus population, it seeks instead to delegitimize some portion of it. It does this by developing a number of moralizing discourses, the subject of this paper, which distinguish between patient, deserving citizens and unruly queue jumpers perceived to threaten the democratic project itself. Housing officials misrecognize squatters as a cause, rather than a consequence, of the state’s failure to deliver, policing new land occupations with a draconian severity. They justify such repression in the name of protecting the democratic order, which is assumed to require waiting instead of improvization. This narrative challenges prevailing explanations for state-orchestrated urban land dispossession. Rather than evicting in the interest of some generalizsed drive toward accumulation, or else to dissipate perceived social conflicts, this paper argues that in South African cities, new land occupations are viewed as threats to democracy’s material realization.

No extended abstract or paper available

 Presented in Session 122. Approaches to Southern Urbanization