The Social Life of Gifts: State Welfare and Pro-poor Suburbia in South Africa
Leslie Bank (Human Sciences Research Council)
Paper short abstract:
The paper draws on anthropological perspectives of gifting, exchange and social reproduction as a means of opening up the debate about the changing meaning of public housing for welfare, redistribution and citizenship after apartheid
Paper long abstract:
The gift of suburbia has been promised by the post-apartheid government to the black majority since the end of apartheid. The "better life for all" has been conceptualised and projected by the ruling African National Congress as access to urban life in a suburban house with decent services and infrastructure. To operationalise this promise the state gifted poor households with millions of free houses on suburban plots, which they were expected to upgrade at their own cost to fully realise the suburban dream, which blacks had been denied under apartheid. The state housing claims to have delivered 4 million houses to the poor free of charge over 25 years. The paper explores consequences and meanings of this social economy of gifting since the end of apartheid. The gift of the house has provided the foundation for new forms of citizenship after apartheid. For the most part, it is been a dream driven by state ideology and resources, but domesticated at the margins by ordinary people. Capital has circulated in the wings, but has played a subdued role. The paper, based on fieldwork in low cost housing estates, maps out the emerging forms of citizenship and urbanism, and the pathways ordinary people construct to suburban life through the state and its gifts (public goods). The paper draws specifically on anthropological perspectives of gifting, exchange and social reproduction as a means of opening up the debate about the meaning of welfare, redistribution and citizenship after apartheid.
Welfare, redistribution and new forms of the "public good" [Sponsored by AFRICA: Journal of the International African Institute]