Reclaiming Cape Town: Spatial Justice and the (Post)apartheid City
Eidelman, Tessa Ann
This dissertation examines contemporary urban land-use and housing conflicts in Cape Town, a racially segregated and unequal city. I follow Reclaim the City (RTC), a movement of predominantly Black, poor and working-class people that, since 2016, has called for “spatial justice” in the city. RTC demands government subsidized housing in historically White, well-resourced parts of the city, where no such housing has been built since the end of apartheid. Based on 12 months of ethnographic study, I examine RTC’s spatial justice activism including protests of exclusionary land-use decisions, tenants’ rights advocacy, and the long-term occupation of disused government buildings for housing. I ask, what does spatial justice mean to RTC members? How are spatial injustices entrenched? And what alternative socio-spatial relations emerge through RTC’s activism? The dissertation draws on decolonial, Black, and feminist studies to center the specifically racial politics of contemporary urban land and housing struggles in Cape Town. My analysis shows that the call for spatial justice is a demand for redress of histories of racialized dispossession and more equitable access to resources but is also a call for the affirmation of personhood, belonging, and freedom. I argue that working against RTC’s spatial justice visions are the ways in which colonial-apartheid logics and structures continually shape racialized ideas about how valuable urban land should be used, in whose interests, who decides, and why. These are logics/structures that naturalize colonially rooted ideas of private property, also sanctioning them in law. In cases of eviction, I argue that this creates highly consequential conflicts between housing and property rights, resulting in the entrenchment of racial/spatial injustice. RTC seeks to build alternatives to prevailing property regimes by occupying disused government buildings. I examine one such occupation as forming a community of resistance: a place where residents seek to reclaim urban land, but also more humanizing ways of living, being, and relating. This study emphasizes that the creation of a more racially/spatially just city demands the recovery of socio-spatial relations that center life, collectivity, mutuality, and human freedom.