Dispossession through Delivery: Informal Settlement Upgrading and Socio-Spatial Confinement in Post-Apartheid Cape Town

Saturday, July 19, 2014: 10:45 AM
Room: 419
Oral Presentation
Zachary LEVENSON , Sociology, University of California, Berkeley, Berkeley, CA
The South African state has delivered more than 3 million formal houses since the demise of apartheid. Yet the same period is marked by a nearly ten-fold increase in the number of informal settlements, the gradual peripheralization of these areas, and the introduction of novel forms of socio-spatial containment, most notably temporary relocation areas (TRAs) on the urban fringe. How can a benevolent delivery regime coexist with forced relocations, shack eradication, and the introduction of veritable refugee camps administered by the same municipal state overseeing delivery and allocations? This paradox is particularly acute in Cape Town, where the persistence and augmentation of apartheid geography is generally accepted in the urban studies literature. In this paper, I examine relocation from informal settlements in Cape Town in the context of emergent forms of socio-spatial confinement. I relate the proliferation of post-apartheid forms – state-provisioned formal housing, rental stock for the working poor, TRAs, and others – to a broader process of dispossession and confinement. Drawing on a year of ethnographic fieldwork in relocation sites across the Cape Flats, I argue that post-apartheid urban relocations can be characterized as dispossession through delivery. Rather than understanding delivery/upgrading and dispossession as antitheses, it is precisely through formal housing allocation that segments of the population are relegated to TRAs. If under apartheid, Cape Town’s informal settlements were targeted and removed en bloc – what I call indiscriminate dispossession – post-apartheid removals entail a process of selective dispossession. Under the rubric of “meaningful engagement” and “participatory upgrading,” the City capitalizes upon factionalism within settlements to create a distinction between “deserving” and “undeserving” residents: neighborhood groups that successfully portray themselves as legitimate representatives are defined as “deserving” and gain formal housing, while contending groups are defined as “undeserving” and relegated to “alternative accommodation” in TRAs and other novel forms of socio-spatial confinement.