Accepted paper:

They always promise toilets: service delivery politics and social movement interventions in post-Apartheid Cape Town


Angela Storey (University of Louisville)

Paper short abstract:

This paper examines radical social movements focused on improving service access to informal areas in Cape Town, South Africa, asking how their work re-frames local political contention in the post-Apartheid era.

Paper long abstract:

Twenty years after South Africa's first democratic elections, the promises of liberation have been replaced for many by a politics of discontent. This is highly visible in hundreds of annual street protests over inadequate service delivery, and is also marked by the growth of social movements and civil society organizations seeking engagements outside the now-dominant realm of partisan politics. Although diverse in their approaches to making change, local social movements offer insight into the complex alignments of communities, parties, alternative radical politics, and persistent socio-economic inequality post-Apartheid. Drawing from ethnographic fieldwork conducted with several social movements in informal settlements at Cape Town's urban periphery, this paper discusses how movements interact with and respond to local politics in the run-up to the 2014 national elections. As informal settlement residents readily locate the political momentum prompting large-scale municipal maintenance projects in the months before the election, as well as promises for service improvements by other parties, they likewise predict the invisibility that their everyday struggles will soon regain. Within this cycle, social movements attempt to intercede with alternative visions for everyday life and political engagement while simultaneously taking advantage of possibilities for material improvements in services. How might we understand this confluence of opportunism and radical politics as a re-alignment of local politics? Do movements offer space for marginalized communities to continue meaningful political struggle post-Apartheid?

panel IP08
The institutionalization of revolutionary movements: ethnographic case studies