P003 – Micropolitics of State and Infrastructures in Southern Africa
10 July, 16:00-17:30

Wafer Alex / University of the Witwatersrand
Dubbeld Bernard / University of Stelenbosch


This panel brings together five papers that consider the materiality of state power through differential encounters with public infrastructure. The papers each draw on recent theoretical contributions in the fields of human geography, sociology and anthropology concerning the materialisation of power, subjectivity and the re-composition of social order in Southern Africa through a consideration of the ways in which individuals are subjected to respond to and appropriate public infrastructures.

Micropolítica do Estado e infraestruturas em África do Sul
O painel reúne cinco trabalhos que consideram variamente a materialidade do poder do Estado por meio de encontros diferenciais com infraestrutura pública. Cada papel vale se das contribuições teóricas recentes nos campos da geografia humana, sociologia e antropologia, relativas à concretização do poder e da subjetividade e a recomposição da ordem social na África do Sul através de uma consideração das maneiras em que os indivíduos são submetidos, respondem e apropriam se as infraestruturas públicas.


Paper 1

Murray Martin / Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning, and Department of African and Afroamerican Studies, University of Michigan (Ann Arbor)

Safe House: Extended Security Networks in Contemporary Johannesburg

The bundling together of various mechanisms of security constitutes a new kind of logistics infrastructure in contemporary Johannesburg. The idealized “safe house” epitomizes the inevitable expansion logic of security paraphernalia. What was once a haphazard architecture of defense has swiftly given way to elaborate pro-active strategies designed to guard against the so-called “trio crimes”: armed robberies, house break-ins, and carjackings. The intersecting and overlapping relationships between private security and public policing has produced what can be called “extended security networks.” These extended security networks include round-the-clock public space policing where private security companies patrol neighborhoods (stopping and searching “suspicious characters”), armed response teams, and a withering array of mechanical devices designed to manage risk. In contemporary Johannesburg, up-to-date security technologies like CCTV and other electro-mechanical surveillance systems have become a ubiquitous kind of material infrastructure. These extended security networks have blended together and extended across space to become technologically standardized, multi-purpose utilities with close to universal coverage in upscale residential neighborhoods. Tracing the inevitable expansionary logic of security paraphernalia, including CCTV, motion detection systems, enables us to grasp the kind of “panic urbanism” that has gripped contemporary Johannesburg.

Paper 2

Lemanski Charlotte / University of Cambridge

Citizenship and the materiality of public infrastructure in Cape Town, South Africa

This paper unites recent theoretical interest in citizenship and materiality, to critically explore how the changing materiality of state infrastructure (in this case, housing) relates to citizenship identity and practice in South Africa. Contemporary interest in citizenship has brought renewed energy to debates exploring the processes through which citizens engage with and demonstrate their citizenship, ranging from Holston’s “insurgent” to Staeheli’s “ordinary”.  Concurrently, urban scholars increasingly recognise materiality (via public infrastructure) as the primary means through which citizens relate to the state, particularly in the global South context of limited infrastructure and services. However, the relationship between citizenship and materiality lacks critical depth, typically presumed to be inverse (i.e. protestors demanding their citizenship rights are those lacking material goods).  Consequently this paper explores and unpacks the conceptual relationship between citizenship and materiality as a framework for understanding how citizenship practices are embodied in the materiality of public infrastructure.  The empirical focus is on state-subsidised housing in contemporary Cape Town, analysing the long-term materiality of a state-subsidised house as a process of change (rather than a static provision), and exploring the ways in which this intersects with beneficiaries’ changing perceptions and experiences of citizenship (everyday and institutional).

Paper 3

Dubbeld Bernard / Stellenbosch University

An infrastructure for the future? Paradoxes of progressive politics in a South African village

In this paper, I will explore the effects of 20 years of a form of democracy in South Africa that has privileged infrastructure as a means to citizenship. Through an ethnographic account of a village in the KwaZulu-Natal province, I move beyond accounts that regard state practice and bureaucracy as ‘anti-political’ (Ferguson 1985, Scott 1998) and instead attempt to understand how on the one hand, building infrastructure became central to a conception of progressive politics, and on the other, how infrastructure alone was unable to secure the futures it promised. In the last part of the paper, I will move from this micro-scale to a greater one, where I will address imaginations of infrastructure and how these might shed light on some of the difficulties of contemporary ‘left’ governance in places where wage work is precarious.

Paper 4

Marcatelli Michela / Institution : International Institute of Social Studies, Erasmus University Rotterdam

Water infrastructure, citizenship and social hierarchy in eThekwini municipality, South Africa

Drawing on theories of materiality, biopolitical perspectives and narrative methods, this paper investigates how water and water infrastructure are co-constitutive of particular notions of citizenship and the (un)just society/state. In order to explore these issues, water narratives have been collected in eThekwini municipality, South Africa; a municipality that has been widely debated regarding water service delivery. It is both viewed as a pioneer — nationally and globally — in sustainable services provision, but has also been the target of severe criticism. Here, technological innovation is a significant feature of water services and the targeting of certain types of populations as appropriate for particular technological solutions is a central governing technique. By paying close attention to water users’ own accounts, the paper examines how these technologies not only shape people’s water use and access, but are also constitutive of their lifestyles and how they see themselves as citizens (or not) in a democratic South Africa. It explores tensions between the aim of South African water policy to transform society to a more just and equal one and how the water users themselves understand water service delivery. As such, the paper presents a methodological approach to how we can study ways in which subjects and citizens come into being through state and infrastructural relationships of power and how we can study and make sense of (new) social hierarchy that is produced.

Paper 5

Pesa Iva / Centre for Frugal Innovations in Africa, African Studies Centre Leiden

Water kiosks, settlement upgrading and (in)formality: Water, energy and housing in Kitwe, Zambia

In Kitwe, on the Zambian Copperbelt, planners of the city council make a distinction between formal and informal settlements. This distinction has a bearing on infrastructure provision (water, energy and housing) and issues of citizenship or belonging to the city. Houses in informal settlements risk demolition and suffer from erratic water supply. Although the council has started to push ‘settlement upgrading’, this is self-aided and only benefits more affluent residents. Informal settlements which are earmarked for upgrading are equipped with water kiosks and planned roads, but residents who do not have the resources to build better houses are forced to sell their plots and relocate to other informal settlements. Water kiosks, even if they are provided, are not much used as people prefer shallow wells or illegal tap connections.
Infrastructure provision on the Zambian Copperbelt challenges common ideas about technological progress, citizenship and state power. Prior to the privatisation of the mines in 1991 the mining companies and the Kitwe City Council used to provide services such as water, electricity and even housing, free of charge or at highly subsidised rates. After privatisation, infrastructure and housing was also privatised and instead of improving, service levels have in many cases deteriorated. How is infrastructure related to citizenship and state power? How does (in)formality influence infrastructure provision?

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