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Publication Details

Reference
Heusden, Peter van & Pointer, Rebecca (2005) Subjectivity, Politics and Neo-Liberalism in Post-Apartheid Cape Town. CCS Grant Report, : 1-39.

Summary
"In February 2001 I attended the launch of the Western Cape Anti-Eviction Campaign, and the community centre in Tafelsig, Mitchell's Plain. The launch was a vibrant event, a hall full of people who were gathered to say "No more!" to the newly formed Cape Town Unicity Council's policy of evicting rent defaulters from council houses. This raw emotion in my mind merged with the "Ya Basta!" of the Zapatistas, and echoes of the "self reduction" of rents I'd read about, where Italians in the '70s, poor Italians in rental housing just like the poor of Tafelsig, had simply refused to pay more than a rent that they decided for themselves." – Peter van Heusden

Yet that launch was hardly a beginning, as what was witnessed on that day in February 2001 had its roots in the "spontaneous" resistance to the eviction of the Lategan household in November 2000. When the police came with the sheriff to evict the Lategans (for the second time), a reported 300 residents were drawn into the argument against the eviction. One of them, Ashraf Cassiem, was singled out by the police as particularly vocal and was brutally assaulted. Ashraf, his mother, and a small group of other residents, went on to form the Tafelsig Anti-Eviction Campaign, and as they came into contact with other community organisations and activists fighting the wave of evictions that greeted the birth of the Unicity, the Western Cape Anti- Eviction Campaign was formed.

We do not wish, however, to document the history of the Western Cape Anti-Eviction Campaign. Maybe someone else will do that somewhere, in a way that will no doubt be at least as contested as that organisation has been. What interests us, instead, is that a crowd gathered in Olifansthoek Road, Tafelsig, in an area which most wrote off as "depoliticised" or even "reactionary". Months later, an attempt to disconnect some 2000 household's water in a military-style operation led to the "Tafelsig Water War" as police violence was countered with blockades of burning tyres. At the time of the "Water War", the Tafelsig Anti-Eviction Campaign had waned as an organisation from that February launch, and in fact there had not been mass meetings in the area for several months. Years later (in 2002), an attempt to evict over 100 households in Lavender Hill was met with crowds, barricades, resistance that stopped the programme of Unicity evictions in its tracks. Again, the organisations that had stood up to resist evictions in Lavender Hill were at a low ebb at that stage.

"In examining the articulation of power it is, however, important not only to focus on objectively visible power – expressed through structures, meetings, protests, police actions and so forth – but it is also necessary to focus on the subject as a locus of networks of power. The subject – the human being that thinks and feels – is not merely operated upon externally by power, but power penetrates into the process of subject-formation. The subject creates and recreates itself, and this process brings into existence a particular kind of subjective existence, i.e. a subjectivity. This subjectivity does not form at random, but is rather appropriate to particular ‘objective circumstances’ (monthly bill payments, punitive state actions, etc.) and also the human relations (family and neighbourhood networks, etc.), which operate in particular historic circumstances. The structuring of human relations is thus a form of exercise of power, the effects of which leave their trace in forms of subjectivity."

In this research, we study the human relations, subjectivities and live strategies that underlay resistance to neo-liberal policies in Cape Town. We intend for this study to not merely be of academic value, but also of value to activists within movements contesting neo-liberalism in South Africa, and thus we also discuss the limitations observed within these movements of resistance, with a view to overcoming them.

In particular, we seek to understand how the subjectivities uncovered in the townships we visited relate to the project of political activism. In this regard, we study both the relationship between township residents and existing activist organisations, and also the relationship between subjectivity, life strategies and the emergence of new activists.

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