Sheep magazine Archive 2: issues 10-17


Lefty online magazine: issue 10, May 2016 to issue 17, November 2016


Across South Africa, urban land has

become a key site of popular contestation

with the state and the liberal property

regime. In Durban the steep terrain also

enables opportunities for new occupations

within the zones of privilege, nodes of

spatially concentrated, racialized power.

But, again as in much of the world,

dissident elites have often been skeptical

about the political capacities of the

urban poor. The worker or peasant has

often been imagined as the subject of a

“proper” politics, a politics to come in which

industrial production or rural land would be

the key site of struggle.

Abahlali baseMjondolo has, affirming

what it has called “a politics of the poor”,

disobeyed the various custodians of a

“proper politics”, affirmed the value of

an “out of order” politics and taken the

situation, the strivings and the struggles of

its members seriously. It has affirmed the

city as a site of struggle and impoverished

people seeking to occupy, hold and develop

land in the city as subjects of struggle. It has

constructed a political imagination in which

the neighborhood is seen as the primary

site for both organization, through direct

face-to-face deliberation and democratic

decision-making, and the broader practices

that sustain resilience.

A conception of political identity rooted in

residence in a land occupation, whether

established or new, has enabled the

affirmation of a form of politics that

exceeds the central categories through

which impoverished people are more

usually divided. This includes an ethnic

conception of belonging that, in Durban,

has increasingly been asserted by the

ruling party, the African National Congress

(ANC), as well as a national conception of

belonging, undergirded by a paranoid and

vicious xenophobia, asserted by the ruling

party, the state and much of wider society.

The movement has been able to successfully

resist these forms of division and has

consistently taken a multi-ethnic form.

People more ordinarily described as

foreigners rather than comrades have often

held important leadership positions, while

the movement has been able to occupy and

hold land and to sustain impressive popular

support. But there are significant limits to

its reach, it has been subject to serious

repression, and it has not been able to

sustain the political autonomy of its larger

occupations over the long-term.


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