Friday, 13 June 2014

Dis/placing political illiteracy: the politics of intellectual equality in a South African shack-dwellers’ movement

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.

Click here to download this paper in pdf.