South Africa

Daily Digest 27/7/2015: social movements in the global South

Well, yesterday was a very thesis-focused day (I’m completing a dissertation on how a land invasion in Cape Town was organised), so I forgot to publish a daily reading digest, but here it is:

  • Marshall, T.H. 1964. “Citizenship and Social Class.” In Class, Citizenship, and Social Development, 65–122. New York: Doubleday.
  • Thompson, Lisa, and Chris Tapscott. 2010. “Introduction: Mobilization and Social Movements in the South – the Challenges of Inclusive Governance.” In Citizenship and Social Movements: Perspectives from the Global South, edited by Lisa Thompson and Chris Tapscott, 1–32. New York: Zed
  • Motta, Sara C., and Alf Gundvald Nilsen. 2011. “Social Movements and/in the Postcolonial: Dispossession, Development and Resistance in the Global South.” In Social Movements in the Global South: Dispossession, Development and Resistance, edited by Sara C. Motta and Alf Gundvald Nilsen, 1-31. London: Palgrave Macmillan.
    • D’Souza, Radha. 2011. “Three Actors, Two Geographies, One Philosophy: The Straightjacket of Social Movements.” 227-249 (same volume)
  • Creswell, John W. 2007. Qualitative Inquiry and Research Design: Choosing Among Five Approaches. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.

How should we interpret (historically, politically) the emergence and demands of social movements in the global South? There are two standing questions in the literature: are social movements in the global South (generally, the colonised countries) different in character from those in the North (today’s “developed countries”)? and what does “neoliberal” political economy have to do with these social movements?

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Marikana: Both sides to blame

As some of you know, maybe too well, I’ve been doing fieldwork on community organising — the formation of grassroots organisations among residents to advocate for / take care of communal matters like safety and development — in a new informal settlement in Cape Town. That informal settlement exploded in violence over the last week of May, just after I concluded my fieldwork. I sent a letter off to the Cape Times for publication, explaining my view of matters. It was shortened and published on June 8, 2015 as “Active engagement between City, Marikana could’ve averted violence,” but here’s the full version.


The events of the last week in Marikana informal settlement in Philippi, Cape Town, powerfully illustrate the saying that when elephants dance, the grass gets trampled. Innocents died, scores have been injured, many houses burnt, and countless lives disrupted. As a student-researcher who has been gathering information on community organising in the Marikana settlement for the last six months, I have had deep conversations with all sides of the current fracas. In my opinion, both the leaderships of Marikana and the City of Cape Town deserve the strongest possible condemnation; the Marikana side for their actions, the City for their inaction.

Cape Town’s Marikana began as an occupation of undeveloped, unfenced, mostly privately-owned land which was a known hotspot for illegal activity and violent crime. The land occupiers wanted to meet their own housing needs, while denying criminals the space to kill and rape. After intense periods of confrontational eviction activity in April 2013 and August 2014, the land occupiers and the City settled into an uneasy accommodation. As court cases against the Marikana settlers ground on, life in Marikana became more settled, even routine. Local street committees and the SAPS brought violence, infighting, and crime in the community under control. People began to build lives there.

All this changed in the last half of May. Residents in nearby Klipfontein began protesting against electricity cuts, and people from Marikana joined in solidarity. Now, direct action—barricading, stone-throwing, toyi-toying—was back on the table. Even so, a crisis could have been averted—but instead, Marikana leaders decided to ride the momentum, stoke the flames. On Monday, 25 May, they called for their own community to mobilise. But by barricading roads, burning tyres, hurling stones and spreading rubbish, protesters only succeeded in alienating their neighbours, to whom they should have been reaching out as allies. They disrupted the daily routines of people throughout Marikana, Philippi East, Khayelitsha, and other areas, making it harder for honest, hardworking citizens (including many in their own community) to safely get to work and school for a full week. In fact, people of neighbouring Lower Crossroads, fed up of the disruption, retaliated over the weekend. Marikana leaders must ask themselves: was it worth it? (more…)