Apartheid remains – historical and material remains of 20th century segregation and struggle in Durban, South Africa

chariResearch1_238x191Grounded in histories, practices and memories in two neighbourhoods surrounded by oil refineries and other polluting industry in the Indian Ocean city of Durban, this research asks how various moments of the past persist in the present, and why they matter for social justice struggles in contemporary South Africa.

Wentworth and Merebank are particularly important sites to investigate the interplay of past and present in this way, as they have been vibrant places of social justice activism during and after apartheid.

Explaining the conditions for critique, and the material obstacles to change, requires taking stock of multiple moments of the past.

Importantly, the making of segregated geographies in a ‘white man’s country’ at the dawn of the 20th century centered on the selective deployment of ‘biopolitical’ tools to remake space. This was particularly evident in the early 20th century production of space in South Durban through the contradictory imperatives of progress and segregation.

This project explores these dynamics, but also the ways in which subaltern residents have found ways to renovate and make critical the tools of their social domination, including the biopolitical expertise used to engineer racial and spatial segregation.

As a key consequence, I argue that the internal struggle against apartheid became a fight for ‘the right to the city’ in Durban in the 1970s and 1980s, in which the political valence of ‘biopolitics’ would be fundamentally called into question.

After democracy, South Durban has witnessed the re-emergence of struggles over the common means of life, another moment of critical renovation of longer-term processes of segregation and opposition.

The key aim of this project is a book-length monograph preliminarily titled Apartheid Remains.

Staff member: Sharad Chari

Project period: 2002 to present

Funding: Partial funding from the School of Development Studies, University of KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa

Related publications:

  • Chari, S. (2010) “State racism and biopolitical struggle: the evasive commons in twentieth century Durban” in Radical History Review 108, special issue on Enclosures, forthcoming.
  • Chari, S. (2009) “Photographing dispossession, forgetting solidarity: waiting for social justice in Wentworth, South Africa’ in Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers 14, S1, pp. S61-S76.
  • Chari, S. (2008) “The antinomies of political evidence in post-apartheid Durban, South Africa” Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute 14, S1, pp. S61-S76.
  • Chari, S. (2007) “How do activists act? Conceiving counter-hegemony in Durban” in John Chalcraft and Yaseen Noorani eds. Counter-hegemony in the Colony and Post-colony, Palgrave Macmillan, Basingstoke.
  • Chari, S. (2006) “Post-apartheid livelihood struggles in Wentworth, South Durban” in V. Padayachee ed. The Development Decade? Economic and Social Change in South Africa, 1994-2004, HSRC Press, Cape Town, pp. 427-443.
  • Chari, S. (2006) “Life histories of race and space in the making of Wentworth and Merebank, South Durban”, African Studies, Vol. 65, No. 5, pp. 105-130.

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