Anna Selmeczi, Interface
This paper starts out with the claim that the contemporary spatio-political order of the South African “world class” city is conditional upon constructing many lives as superfluous and disposable. This construction partly rests on the inherited topography of apartheid displacement which continues to push the poor black majority into zones of invisibility and inaudibility. Beyond this physical distancing, the production and abandonment of surplus people also depends on rendering them as improper political subjects. In the prevailing political discourse, poor people’s struggles are deemed less than political through notions such as the idea that all protest is related to the pace of “service delivery” or accusations of violence, as well as often explicit characterizations of dissenting people as ignorant.
Such discursive moves imply and reinforce a conception of the poor black majority as unable to think and practice their own politics; that is, as politically illiterate group of people. Working with a conception of intellectual inequality as always fabricated and contingent in nature, this article elaborates the deployment and disruption of political illiteracy by focusing on the politics of South African shack-dwellers’ movement Abahlali baseMjondolo. The discussion moves through the dis/placement of the legal charge of public violence, the state violence of illegal evictions, the discourse of service delivery, and the educative trusteeship of abandonment. The article concludes with some concerns that emerge through the movement’s practice and the very attempt to research political illiteracy.
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