Neoliberal Governmentality and Township Tourism in South Africa

Wednesday, 18 July 2018: 16:09
Oral Presentation
Annie HIKIDO, University of California-Santa Barbara, USA
South Africa’s 1994 democratic transition and the global iconicity of Nelson Mandela inspired droves of international tourists to visit the now so-called “Rainbow Nation”. Since then, the South African tourism industry has expanded rapidly. Luxury districts have burgeoned in emergent global cities, reflecting the country’s rise as a leisure destination and economic epicenter. The growth of urban cores occurs alongside the growth of the peri-urban townships, attesting to the geographical entrenchment of the apartheid regime and the continuity of austere conditions for black South Africans. The state then promoted tourism as a vehicle for alleviating unemployment and poverty, particularly through the 1998 Growth, Employment, and Redistribution (GEAR) program’s market-driven agenda. Township tourism has especially sparked the state’s expectation that black entrepreneurs will drive township development by attaining foreign capital from overseas visitors. This illustrates Nikolas Rose’s discussion of contemporary neoliberalism (1999), under which ideal citizens become “responsibilized and entrepreneurialized,” absolving the state from more directly addressing the social ills that plague these disadvantaged communities.

This paper investigates this mode of “governmentality” through the daily lives of entrepreneurial black women who have established township guesthouses. Drawing from eleven months of ethnographic fieldwork in three townships outside of Cape Town, the nation’s most popular tourist destination, I show how these women become entrepreneurial subjects who both comply with and resist neoliberal governance. On one hand, they utilize racialized, gendered, and classed strategies for targeting a white Western clientele in order to siphon global capital to their township communities. On the other, they avoid pure individualistic competition, choosing instead to work cooperatively as business owners to optimize communal resource distribution. In doing so, they not only refuse the neoliberal prescription of intraracial conflict (Spence 2013), but also use tourism as a mouthpiece to implicitly critique the state for neglecting poor black communities.