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Publication Details

Reference
Oldfield, Sophie & Stokke, Kristian  (2004) Building unity in diversity: Social movement activism in the Western Cape Anti-Eviction Campaign. A case study for the UKZN project entitled: Globalisation, Marginalisation and New Social Movements in post-Apartheid South Africa : 1-35.

Summary
The Western Cape Anti-Eviction Campaign1 is a movement of community organisations from poor, marginalised areas of Cape Town that formed in February 2001 to fight against evictions and water cut-offs2. A diversity of issues lies behind the emergence of the Campaign, although the initial impetus was Cape Town City Council-led evictions of families from two areas of state-owned flats in former coloured group areas. Across the Campaign, activists and organisations share threats and experiences of water cut-offs and evictions, collective discontent with postapartheid polices of cost-recovery on basic services, and dissatisfaction with local political representation (Leitch 2003). Through involvement in the Campaign, tactics and strategies have been shared and activists have been empowered in their everyday community-based activism.

An important oppositional voice in local politics in Cape Town, they have joined together to intervene, and often disrupt, citywide policy and public discourse on equity and socio-economic rights. The Campaign has given force as well as shape to a discourse on justice and the imperative to challenge postapartheid service delivery and cost-recovery policies.

This collective experiential and discursive unity builds, however, on real diversity. Rich relationships that have evolved between activists through involvement in the Campaign cross many differences, and provide the energy that in part has catalysed activists to build a united, citywide movement.

Activists and organisations live in diverse conditions, work from different histories of struggle and relationships with the state, and ground their activism in often-divergent politics.

The potential strength of the Campaign builds on its diversity and its common community- ased identity. Yet, at the same time, a real tension exists between the diversity that constitutes the Campaign and the unity required to fight for socio-economic rights, and against state policies and actions. Only by accepting diversity could the Campaign’s unity be built.

Yet, paradoxically, the same diversity makes organising the Campaign challenging and produces tensions that at times have splintered and diffused its vision, and politicised its actions and constitution.

This report analyses the building of the Campaign’s ‘unity in diversity’. We first frame the Campaign and the South African experience in the international literature on globalisation and resistance and the political economy of neo-liberalisation (section two). This analysis highlights contemporary global processes of ‘accumulation by dispossession’ (Harvey 2003), and the structural relationship between these economic processes and the complex politics of diverse social movements organising in counterhegemonic struggles (Chin and Mittleman 2000). These ideas are elaborated through introduction to a conceptual literature on social movements that proves useful in unpacking the politics and agency of social movements, not only as products of particular powerful economic processes, but as contextual and relational, embedded in dynamic political opportunity structures (Törnquist 1999). This literature provides a framework for analysing where in the political terrain the Campaign chooses to work, what issues and interests they promote and politicise, and how people are mobilised into it and its actions in particular political and social arenas. In section three, the conceptual debates are placed in the context of the South African transition and its mix of liberal democracy and economic liberalisation.

These analytical debates help us examine the specific ways in which activists, community organisations and the Campaign as a collective movement negotiate and build unity in diversity. The remainder of the report thus focuses first on the Campaign’s diversity (sections four and five) and then on the various initiatives that generate its unity (sections six and seven).

Section four investigates the centrality of the Campaign’s identity as a community-based movement and the ways in which this identity defines the logics on which Campaign organising and politics build.

Section five explores the ways in which diverse local contexts shape political practice as an outcome of neighbourhood logic and experience, while also coalescing as particular modes and repertoires of protest in the Campaign.

As a diverse community-based movement, the Campaign has faced leadership and organisational challenges. Section six, therefore, examines the dynamics in which Campaign leadership has emerged and attempted to negotiate and build from its diverse base. At times, its actions have been highly politicised.Establishing and sustaining a leadership that reflects the diverse organisations and activists the Campaign represents is challenging in a context with few individual and collective financial resources.

The seventh section considers initiatives at the Campaign rather than communityorganisation scale – particularly legal strategies and research capacity building. With arrests and interdicts by banks for putting evicted families back into their homes and summonses for illegal occupation of land and state-built housing, Campaign activists have been forced into courts to defend themselves. Whereas criminal cases have placed activists and their families under extreme stress and have absorbed extensive resources, the Legal Coordinating Committee, a unit of the Campaign, has developed capacity to at least delay evictions through representation of families faced with losing their homes. Significant legal battles have also confirmed the City of Cape Town’s constitutional and statutory obligation to provide housing to families in crisis contexts.

These experiences have helped generate capacity and have better defined the potential and the limits of legal struggle. At the same time, the Campaign has started to build research capacity through the development of the Community Research Group in order to link research and activism more strategically in community organisations. Both the Legal Coordinating Committee and the Community Research Group operate across the city, and work towards building the Campaign’s unity through its ability to defend itself and its constituents in courts, as well as proactively responding to and challenging policy through research.

The report’s eighth section draws together and concludes the empirical analysis of the Campaign, by reflecting on the symbolic power the Campaign has generated and the ways in which it challenges the state’s hegemony in issues of cost-recovery and privatisation, despite its political fragmentation and weakness.

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