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  • Cities with 'Slums': from informal settlement eradication to a right to the city in Africa
  • Zachary Levenson (bio)
Marie Huchzermeyer (2011) Cities with 'Slums': from informal settlement eradication to a right to the city in Africa. Cape Town: University of Cape Town Press.

Marie Huchzermeyer's new book Cities with 'Slums' provides an overview of informal settlement eradication in African cities. As in her previous comparative work (Huchzermeyer 2004), South African cities assume center stage. After nearly two decades of silence on the subject, this text is at the forefront of an emerging consensus around the systematic nature of forced removals in the post-apartheid period. Whereas late apartheid studies assessed removals as central to a coherent accumulation strategy (eg Maré 1980, Platzky and Walker 1985, Savage 1986), it has only been in the last five years that post-apartheid analysts have begun to reach a comparable conclusion. After briefly considering a handful of key works from the 1970s and 1980s, this review situates Huchzermeyer's new work, the first book-length treatment of post-apartheid evictions, in the context of the developing literature on the latest round of evictions and relocations.

The first comprehensive study of apartheid-era forced removals was published in 1971 by English-born Franciscan priest Cosmas Desmond. The result of six months worth of visits to threatened settlements across South Africa, The Discarded People drew national attention to systematic relocations for the first time, despite its nearly immediate banning inside the country. Desmond's aim in writing the book was to 'penetrate the cloak of secrecy' surrounding removals (Desmond 1971:6), as he was convinced that South African whites would organise against apartheid urban policy if they knew what was occurring at the time. As he would contend over a decade [End Page 133] later, 'The resettlement policy is the cornerstone of the whole edifice of apartheid' (Desmond 1985:xviii).

While early influx control was intended to achieve complete separation between whites and non-whites, a high modernist project of 'tidy[ing] the map' (Desmond 1971:13), by the 1950s the Nationalist Party shifted gears. This second phase was, according to Desmond, an attempt to reproduce cheap African labour reserves, in its initial phase paralleling what Marx called primitive accumulation: 'The labour-tenant system is being abolished in one district after another, and the people are faced with the alternatives of working full-time for the White farmer (if he wants their labour) or being sent to resettlement camps without any land' (1971:218). This process would later be described by two researchers from the Surplus People Project in strikingly similar terms, with relocations to bantustans serving as the central means through which 'thousands of people have been locked into farm labour or contract work' (Platzky and Walker 1985:33).

These rural evictions constitute the single largest category of forced removals under apartheid, and when combined with urban removals in accordance with the Group Areas Act, this was the fate of a fifth of the South African population by 1985 (1985:7). Like Desmond before them, the Surplus People Project would maintain that removals served to meet the labour needs of the white economy, emphasizing the mining, agricultural, and industrial sectors in particular (1985:16). While neither of these authors is reductively economistic, discussing both racialist and security rationales, the emphasis in both studies remains on the formation of an agrarian proletariat and the coerced peripheralisation of the absolute surplus population. Rural relocation sites were, in the words of Desmond, 'simply dumping grounds for old people, women and children whose labour is not needed for the White economy' (1971:27).

By the late 1980s, the apartheid government was no longer able to maintain control over urban influx control. Last ditch attempts to regulate the black urban population - most notoriously the destruction of Crossroads in 1986 - began to falter, and the 1990s were marked by the proliferation (and de novo formation) of peri-urban shack settlements in every major metropolitan area. Thus Mandela's 1994 promise of a million houses constituted a key component of the Reconstruction and Development Programme (RDP). Low-cost subsidised structures are commonly called 'RDP houses' to this day, despite...


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