Despite policy and practical efforts to undo the apartheid form of SA cities, many wealthy areas appear relatively unchanged in socio-economic profile. But in Johannesburg, poverty is evident in middle class suburbs in public spaces such as parks. Research on park dwellers living along Johannesburg's Braamfontein Spruit, a linear park, shows that many people are there to minimise costs of accommodation and transport, respond to cash flow crises, or prioritise expenditure on family members elsewhere. Their lives and situation is connected to the economy of the northern suburbs and the spatial distortions of the city, yet they are frequently dismissed as criminals and vagrants. I use the notion of the politics of invisibility to discuss this and to show its connection to forms of inequality and their modes of production. Park dwellers attempt to evade the censure and punishment of metropolitan police, private security, and those with assumed claims over the public space, through concealment strategies; and through hiding their situation from relatives. At the same time, more privileged residents deploy a politics of invisibility that enables the use of cheap labour without confronting how some wages and forms of work can't sustainably buy either transport elsewhere, nor nearby accommodation, and are therefore implicated in a spectrum of forms of cheap living, including rough sleeping. This politics of invisibility sheds light on what enables and perpetuates this economic and existential inequality, and the distanciation that produces and reinforces it.


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pp. 127-150
Launched on MUSE
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