Gender and Citizenship in a South African Township: A case study of the WFRA

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Seminar Date
November 30, 2011
Most South Africans expected their demands for decent housing, quality education, running water, electricity, and jobs to be met when the ANC came to power in 1994. After all, the ANC’s election manifesto had promised that it would build a million homes, provide running water to a million families, and electrify two million homes within five years of assuming power. At the same time the South African Constitution, adopted in 1996, secured social and economic rights, including food, water, health care, and housing, and guaranteed civil and political rights (see Andrews 2006). While the post-apartheid period has witnessed the dismantling of the legal edifice of apartheid, social, economic and spatial inequalities persist, and have even deepened. The frustrated aspirations of large numbers of South Africans are evident in ongoing service delivery protests and xenophobic attacks across townships. As Conca (2005) has observed, the struggles for electricity, public health, clean water, housing and jobs by the poor majority constitute the ‘most consequential form of social activism in South Africa today.’ These struggles are examined as they have played out in Westcliff, Chatsworth, a predominantly ‘Indian’ township south of Durban, where the Westcliff Flat Residents Association (WFRA) was formed in 1998 to coordinate the struggle for housing, electricity, and water. Based on in-depth interviews, this paper examines the ways in which members have responded to the effects of the state’s social and economic policies over the past two decades, and how they are attempting to access power and resources. The focus is on the strategies that the group has employed to negotiate power vis-à-vis the state and other social movements and the outcomes of that engagement. More broadly, this study assesses the impact of civil society organizations and the meanings of citizenship in present-day South Africa.
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