Thursday, 21 July 2011

‘From shack to the Constitutional Court’: The litigious disruption of governing global cities

by Anna Selmeczi, Utrecht Law Review, April 2011

On October 14th 2009, the South African Constitutional Court judged unconstitutional and so invalidated the so-called ‘Slums Act’; a provincial legislation of KwaZulu-Natal that was also supposed to be the blueprint for other provinces’ policies of eradicating informal settlements. The decision signalled a major victory for the first applicant Abahlali baseMjondolo, the country’s largest shack dwellers’ movement that has been struggling for a dignified life in the cities since 2005. Beyond its relevance for the debates surrounding the justiciability of social and economic rights so famously included in the South African Constitution, when viewed from the perspective of the shack dwellers’ mobilization, the case appears to manifest contemporary technologies of power; the various practices that shape urban spaces and determine what kind of lives should inhabit them. Indeed, in rationalizing the municipal effort to eliminate shack settlements from urban centres with sanitary concerns and justifying evictions with the will to improve poor people’s living conditions, the ‘Slums Act’ reflects biopolitics in action.

Accordingly, the Abahlali’s challenge to the legislation might be reminiscent of Michel Foucault’s claim that, as an unanticipated consequence of the inclusion of wo/men’s biological life into politics, modern political struggles tend to centre on this very aspect of human existence. That is, at least for the Foucault of The Will to Knowledge, claims for the right to a dignified life or to adequate housing are backlash effects of the emergence of biopower, and thus are correlated to technologies of power which, in turn, had weakened the role of law in governing populations.

Click here to download this paper in pdf.