In urban South Africa today, there is evidence of deep-rooted exclusions, signalling the ongoing need to realise city rights. While the socio-economic rights framework is a liberal one, the ‘right to the city’ as coined by the French sociologist/philosopher Henri Lefebvre in the late 1960s stems from a Marxist humanism. The literature that considers the relevance of Lefebvre’s ‘right to the city’ for the urban condition of the 21st century largely emanates from and speaks to urban struggles in the First World or so-called ‘global North’. At the same time, a prominent shack dwellers’ movement in South Africa invokes an explicitly Lefebvrian right to the city in its urban struggles over the past eight years. This paper discusses key aspects of Lefebvre’s ‘right to the city’, in part contested, in relation to the field of tension that represents informal settlements in cities such as Johannesburg today. It focusses in particular on Lefebvre’s humanist concept of a right to the ‘oeuvre’ or ‘creative work’ in relation to that of ‘inhabiting’. These are less explored dimensions of Lefebvre’s right to the city, but of central relevance for an engagement with informal settlements and for constructive mobilization around the South African urban condition today.


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pp. 64-89
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