Race, Class, and Immorality in a Land Occupation: Struggles over Housing Stigmatization in Post-Apartheid Cape Town

Wednesday, 18 July 2018: 17:30
Oral Presentation
Zachary LEVENSON, University of California, Berkeley, USA
In post-apartheid South African cities, informal housing frequently exists amid the interstices of formal homes. Nowhere is this truer than in Cape Town, where shacks in the backyards of formal homes is the prevailing informal housing type, and where land occupations are often launched in spaces adjacent to existing neighborhoods. Based on an ethnographic study of one such occupation called Siqalo since its inception in 2012, I demonstrate how its more than 18,000 residents’ legal struggle over the right to stay put has fueled their stigmatization by the municipal government in moral and class terms. In addition to this moralizing stigma as improper citizens, this government framing has reignited a second major source of stigmatization: middle class residents in formal homes across the road, who stigmatize squatters in race (as “African,” as opposed to “Colored”) and class (as lumpen as opposed to workers) terms. Drawing on accounts of meetings of the formal housing association (“ratepayers”), including violent conflicts with Siqalo residents and visits from municipal government officials and the Mayor, I argue that the City’s framing and ratepayers’ complaints reinforce one another, creating a generalized discourse of land occupiers not as homeless people in need, but as threats to the healthy functioning of the city. I conclude with an analysis of how Siqalo residents have contested these discourses, sometimes successfully, and how this speaks to struggles over the stigmatization of informal housing more broadly.