Abstracts for 'Cities in Southern Africa: Migrants and Urban Agents' Seminar, 26 February 2010, Birkbeck


The Urban Poor and the ‘Rebuilding’ Programme in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe, 2005-2007
Busani Mpofu (University of Edinburgh)

This paper analyses the effectiveness of Operation Garikai/Hlalani Kuhle (OGHK) housing “rebuilding” programme in the city of Bulawayo, Zimbabwe. The programme was the successor to the Operation Murambatsvina (OM), a nationwide blitz of demolition of ‘illegal’ urban homes mostly for low income earners, informal business premises embarked upon by the Government from 19 May, 2005 supposedly to “clean up” cities and left many urban poor dwellers displaced and homeless. When OM was still in full swing, the government launched OGHK or “Operation Live Well”, a rebuilding programme designed for the homeless with preference to be given to the victims of the blitz. This paper argues that the rebuilding programme was chaotic and led to widespread and shameless exclusion of the deserving victims of OM some of whom were forcibly removed from the city and dumped in transit camps from where they were transported to rural areas. Judging by this, the article argues that OGHK demonstrated the big gap between the government’s excessive rhetoric on the provision of low cost housing and its apparent lack of capacity to deliver. It was a political façade that purported to “solve” a problem that was initially not planned for solution and it highlighted the lethality of the state/city struggles over the provision of housing and other amenities to low income earners. 

Death ‘On the Move’: Funerals, Entrepreneurs and the Rural-Urban Nexus in South Africa
Rebekah Lee (Goldsmiths College, University of London)

This paper primarily concerns the intersection of the changing management of death with the problems and possibilities presented by the growing mobility of the African, and specifically Xhosa-speaking, population in South Africa from the latter half of the 20th century to the present day. I am interested in how shifts in the practices and beliefs around death are mediated by individuals, households, and businesses who have an historical affinity towards movement, particularly across what has been called the ‘rural-urban nexus’.  In what ways has this more mobile orientation influenced perceived rites and responsibilities surrounding death?    And how have more mobile ‘ways of dying’ in turn created new subjectivities and new ways in which to imagine relations between the living and the dead?  I argue that a growing category of African funeral directors based in Cape Town and the rural areas of the Eastern Cape are particularly placed to shape these processes, through their role as cultural mediators and technological innovators, and their particular emphasis on maintaining a flow of bodies (both dead and alive) between rural and urban areas.  I focus on two aspects of contemporary South African funerals—embalming and exhumations— that are suggestive of how the migration dynamic, and the continuing demands from mobile mourners for innovations via the funeral industry, have encouraged new perceptions of and relations to the dead body. 

Changing Attitudes to Land in the Expanding Urban Areas of Xilunguine / Lourenço Marques / Maputo
Professor Paul Jenkins (Herriot-Watt University and Edinburgh School of Architecture and Landscape Architecture)

Cities in Southern Africa - like the rest of the Sub-Saharan African (SSA) region - are expanding very rapidly as SSA enters a phase of rapid demographic growth and associated urbanisation. Weak states and historically high levels of poverty have led to limited government led urban planning or private sector led urban development. The resulting urban form is usually now termed 'informal' and there are repeated attempts to 'formalise' this which have limited impact. This paper focuses on Maputo, the capital of Mozambique and argues that the current situation there reflects both strong socio-cultural interests and political economic forces where the boundaries between the 'formal' and 'informal' are kept fuzzy. In this 'grey area' a range of new attitudes and practices develop which are exploited by the poor as well as the rich, the weak as well as the powerful - albeit differentially. Any attempts to 'plan' the city needs to understand these and start from the realpolitik and emerging hybrid socio-cultural attitudes to urban land, and not continually attempt to implant some form of 'rational planned order'. Referring to historical precedent and on-going research, Professor Jenkins draws on some 3 decades of involvement in the city to argue for an approach to the 'urban' in this context which is inductive and not deductive, is grounded in socially constructed perceptions and not based on positivist 'planning', and challenges the powers embedded in the binaries of current urban policy.

Making a Livelihood In (and Beyond) the African city
Debbie Potts (King’s College, University of London)

The formal labour markets and economies of many cities in southern Africa have been very weak for decades which has led to significant adaptations in the nature of the livelihoods of most urban households.  The lack of formal and reasonably paid jobs has also had a strong impact on population growth in cities although this is often not recognized.  This paper will review some of these trends in southern Africa and illustrate them with case study material from Harare, Zimbabwe where many urban residents were forced to 'outsource' their livelihoods beyond the city boundaries to rural areas and other countries as the 2000s progressed.