Dispossessing to deliver

In South Africa, land occupiers are evicted from their homes in the name of housing delivery. On the Africa Is a Country Podcast this week, we attempt to understand why.

Khayelitsha, South Africa. Image credit Michiel Van Balen via Flickr CC BY 2.0.

The legacy of apartheid displacement and dispossession was meant to be remedied in democratic South Africa. Although the government has delivered more than three million homes, the social need has outstripped capacity and the collapse of the ANC-run state due to corruption has not helped. In this context, scores of South Africans take charge of their own accommodation by occupying land (sometimes privately owned, often state-owned) and erecting their own shelters. Although one expects the neoliberal state to embrace this form of self-provisioning, land occupiers are opposed by the state, and typically violently evicted. How come?

Zachary Levenson’s latest book, Delivery as Dispossession: Land Occupation and Eviction in the Postapartheid City (OUP, 2022) seeks to make sense of land occupations and housing struggles in South Africa. Why does the state see them as an obstacle to housing delivery? And if, as the left tends to represent them, they constitute social movements, what kind of movement is a land occupation?

Zach, a regular AIAC contributor, is an assistant professor of sociology at the University of North Carolina, Greensboro, a Donald D. Harrington Faculty Fellow in the Department of Sociology at the University of Texas at Austin and a senior research associate at the University of Johannesburg.

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