P075 – Social Mobilisation, Political Contestation and Urban Transformation: Reflecting on South African and Namibian Cities Twenty Years after Apartheid
9 July, 14:00 – 15:30

Peyroux Elisabeth / Prodig, CNRS
Graefe Olivier / University of Fribourg


This panel aims to explore how social mobilisation, community engagement and political contestation have shaped the nature of the post-apartheid transition and contributed to the urban transformation agenda in South Africa and Namibia. The panel wishes to lay the grounds for comparing the trajectories of urban transformation and social change in two neighbouring countries that share a history of colonialism and apartheid and a common legacy in patterns and processes of urbanization.
The panel is composed of theoretical contributions and empirical cases that address the following questions:
1/What forms of social mobilisation, community engagement and political contestation have endured, emerged and consolidated over the past 20 years? Which actors (political parties, associations, trade unions, religious groups, activists, advocacy groups, traditional authorities) have been involved? What have been the “spaces of resistance” within the cities? How have actors engaged and interacted with, and influenced and potentially reconfigured state action and policies at various scales?
2/Which issues and rights have been addressed, with which discourses and which outcomes? Contributions may include access to land, housing and services, as well as other social rights; residential desegregation; the deepening of democratic processes in governance and urban policy-making.
3/How have the theoretical, conceptual frameworks and the analytical categories evolved over time to capture these processes of political, social and urban change?

“Mobilisation sociale, contestation politique et transformation urbaine : les villes sud-africaines et namibiennes 20 ans après l’apartheid”
Ce panel vise à explorer la façon dont la mobilisation sociale, l’engagement communautaire et la contestation politique ont façonné la nature de la transition post-apartheid et contribué aux transformations urbaines en Afrique du Sud et en Namibie. Le panel entend jeter les bases d’une comparaison des trajectoires de transformation urbaine et de changement social dans deux pays voisins qui partagent un passé de colonialisme et d’apartheid et un héritage commun en termes de modèles et de processus de développement urbain.

Le panel est composé de contributions théoriques ainsi que d’études de cas empiriques traitant des questions suivantes :
1/Quelles sont les formes de mobilisation sociale, d’engagement communautaire et de contestation politique qui ont persisté, émergé et se sont consolidées au cours des 20 dernières années ? Par quels acteurs (partis politiques, associations, syndicats, groupes religieux, militants, groupes de pression, autorités traditionnelles) ont-elles été portées ? Quels ont été les «espaces de résistance » des villes ? Quelles relations entretiennent ces acteurs avec les représentants de l’Etat et comment et dans quelle mesure ont-ils contribué à influencer et à modifier  l’action politique à différents niveaux d’échelles ?
2/Quelles questions sociales et quels droits ont-ils été défendus, avec quels discours et quels résultats ? Les contributions pourront traiter de l’accès à la terre, au logement et aux services, ainsi qu’à d’autres droits sociaux ; de la déségrégation résidentielle ; du renforcement des processus démocratiques dans la gouvernance et l’élaboration des politiques urbaines.
3/Comment les cadres théoriques et conceptuels et les catégories d’analyse ont-ils évolué avec le temps pour rendre compte de ces processus de changement politique, social et urbain ?

Paper 1

Tjirera Ellison / University of the Witwatersrand, South Africa

In Search of Social Meaning: Exploring “Herero Mall” (Windhoek/Namibia) as a Post-Apartheid Space

The post-apartheid city represents an important reflector of rapid urbanisation and ongoing migration processes of southern African societies in transition. Urban space as a mixture of complex interrelations and social interactions provides a prism through which post-independence arrangements of social cohesion, race relations, and ethnic and class conflicts are illuminated. These new arrangements reflect continual negotiation of social spaces by the urban dwellers. Despite the evidence, there is a dearth of studies focusing on locating the meaning of social spaces in post-apartheid urban Namibia. Employing ethnography as a methodological choice, participant observation combined with in-depth interviews, I seek to locate the social meaning of the so-called Herero Mall in the heart of Katutura, the black township of Windhoek, the capital city of Namibia. The name ‘Herero Mall’ points to the ethnic origin of this social space developing over the past decade. Providing an important means of economic survival, ‘Herero Mall’ is a solace to the urban poor. Most traders if not all are unable to join formal employment because of their low level of education. ‘Herero Mall’ exists against the backdrop of high unemployment in the city where enormous wealth rubs shoulders with abject poverty. Subjected to history and with reference to power symbols within its milieu, ‘Herero Mall’ attracts symbolic capital in the Bourdieuvian sense.

Paper 2

Marks Monique / Durban University of Technology, South Africa

The possibilities of co-production in a local development context: The case of Kenneth Gardens housing estate in Durban, South Africa

In 2010 the University of KwaZulu-Natal and the Durban University of Technology initiated a community engagement project in Durban’s largest low income housing estate, Kenneth Gardens. The project is run in partnership with Kenneth Gardens residents, mostly represented at that time by the Residents’ Committee and 2 NPOs in the estate run by residents. The municipal Housing Department was consulted and in the early phases gave their verbal and written support. In many ways this project reflects the ideas of co-production of knowledge and services between the state, civil society and urban citizens. What has transpired since then is that local government has proven more of an obstacle than a facilitator. In particular, the municipality’s unwillingness to act decisively in regard to the obstructive actions of a local political councillor has had detrimental consequences. Importantly this has not derailed the project and residents continue to partner with both staff and students to deliver value services and developmental outcomes. This does however raise questions for thinking about co-production where it is hoped that citizen involvement leads to improved livelihoods and delivery. In this paper we unpack the problematic role that local politics and government can play in development processes. Included in this analysis is a critical discussion of what it means to do engagement work without the support of state officials within the South African context.

Paper 3

Bloemertz Lena / University of Basel, Switzerland

Werner Wolfgang / Polytechnic of Namibia

Urbanization of the peripheries and the development of the land market in communal areas. Transformations in North Central Namibia

The towns in North Central Namibia registered an impressive growth in terms of population and housing, but also in terms of trade activities and traffic in the last 20 years. Villages like Eenhana, Uutapi or Oshikuku became urban centers with all urban facilities. Urban development took place along the main roads and new settlements were established where there were none before. This rapid transformation goes hand in hand with profound changes in the local economy, the political relationships and the social hierarchy. This paper presents exploratory findings of a study conducted in June 2014 with students of the Universities of Basel, Fribourg and the Polytechnic of Namibia. It will focus on the issues of the creeping land market and its meaning in terms of social exclusion and differentiation, shifts of power relationships and the changing role of the peripheries in the urban-rural relationships.

Paper 4

Peyroux Elisabeth / Prodig, CNRS, France

Social contestation, urban violence and “civic” conflicts in South African cities

Urban conflicts and struggles and social mobilization processes have been firmly entrenched in the critical urban studies agenda. The exploration of violent “civic conflicts” appears particularly relevant and crucial in South Africa as the post-apartheid period is witnessing unprecedented levels of violence of social protests in urban, peri-urban and semi-rural localities of several provinces in relation to basic service delivery, housing evictions and perceived government dysfunction. Based on a preliminary assessment of the literature as part of a newly-developed collaborative research project in Cape Town the presentation suggests that issues of urban violence and social conflicts need to be understand in a broader, interdisciplinary perspective, in particular by drawing insights from sociology, political science and Peace & Conflict Studies. The hypothesis is that this interdisciplinary perspective introduces a new way of thinking the relationships between violence and conflicts and on how they are mediated by political and social processes in South African cities. In this perspective violence and social conflicts are understood as ways of negotiating, lobbying, making claims and demands more visible in a post-conflict context. It interrogates how this new perspective might challenge not only current policy and programmes in the field of violence prevention but also urban politics in general.

Paper 5

Weidmann Laura / University of Fribourg, Switzerland

Negotiating boundaries. Authority struggles between state territory and customary spaces

The Namibian national territory comprises two different, spatially divided land governance systems, each building on contrasting political paradigms: customary administered and state governed areas. The formalisation of customary land rights by the state is an enactment both of decentralization policy and postcolonial claims. However, while this formalisation process aims to provide legal and administrative means to preserve the dual legal system, it simultaneously exposes the paradigmatic and spatial boundaries between the two. The process triggers conflicts because of the spatial and legal overlaps of land governance systems, as each position argues with reference to a certain interpretation of the spatial past (Lund 2013).
In border areas between newly declared, commodified town lands and their surrounding communal areas, the confrontation between the different legal-spatial authorities takes a peculiarly salient nature. Traditional authorities are confronted not only with the spatial intrusion of new authorities, but the very foundation of their legitimacy is threatened by the presence of the new state’s political paradigm. Aiming for continued legitimization, the traditional authorities must position themselves – in discourse and action – vis-à-vis the state’s institutional and spatial intrusions into communal land. Thus, Namibia’s present land governance serves to explore how spatial and paradigmatic borders are interlinked and enacted in the quest for political power.

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