This article explores the practices, agency and vision of Western Cape Anti-eviction Campaign (AEC) members in their quest for social justice. It argues that global neoliberal policies involving privatisation of, and state withdrawal from, the provision of basic services have resulted in simultaneous and contradictory processes of exclusion and inclusion for the poor; at once eroding their livelihoods and opening up new possibilities to create non-formal channels and improve innovative practices that resist such exclusion. The case study illustrates how citizenship is a practice, not a given. The article aims to influence and assist planning theory and education to cultivate an understanding of the range of citizenship spaces and alternatives to neoliberal urbanism.
This paper draws on a series of semi-structured, in-depth interview with members and leaders of the anti-eviction and anti-privatisation movements in Cape Town, South Africa. It uses the concepts of insurgent urbanism and insurgent citizenship to illuminate why such campaigns are created and who creates and participates in them.
South Africa’s recent history has created a heightened awareness about rights among those who were historically denied a citizenship. In South Africa the question of housing and basic services is centre stage in conceptions of citizenship as a result of the redistributive agenda promised by the new government as part of the state’s nation-building following apartheid. However, a shift towards a more market-driven fiscal plan has meant this promise has not been realised. While service provision has increased substantially, the stagnated state of low-cost housing production and pricing for municipal services has effectively priced out the disadvantaged.
The AEC is a grassroots agglomeration of organisations whose members have been victims or face the threats of evictions or service cuts. They mobilise to resist evictions as well as oppose service disconnections. They work closely with the Anti-privatisation Forum (APF), a voluntary organisation who demand provision of essential services on basis of need, not payment.
Many AEC members noted their lack of confidence in local government to represent their best interests. Interviews also highlighted the legal shortfall in extending the notion of human rights to include ‘rights to livelihood’ and the ineffectiveness of invited spaces. Although citizens take advantage of these spaces, they use strategies to create alternative channels and spaces to assert their rights to the city, negotiate their wants and actively practice their citizenship. These strategies are often more responsive to the immediate needs and demands of the poor. For example, using defiant collective action.
Urban planners need to rethink their engagement with the state as their work increasingly becomes the remit of the private sector and also how they engage with communities. The inclusion of those who are in direct conflict with policymakers and planners may be the most effective strategy to guarantee accountability, democratisation, participatory decision making, and inclusive governance. The planning profession will need to recognise the poor’s self-help strategies to improve its relevance to those grassroots processes that shape and reshape the urban reality.