Life beyond protests: An ethnographic study of what it means to be an informal settlement resident in Kanana/Gugulethu, Cape Town
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This study explores the lives of Kanana residents, an informal settlement in Gugulethu Township on the outskirts of Cape Town, South Africa. It pays particular attention to their everyday lives to dispel negative and simplistic representations of informal settlement residents when they collectively take part in protests. Although there are extensive reasons for the protests in the informal settlements, the media and the South African government have reduced these protests to portraying them as demands for “service delivery”, and furthermore as criminally induced protests. I point out that this problem is partly due to scholarly work that does not engage these misleading representations and illustrate the lives of shack residents in the ordinary, when they are not protesting. Thus the focus of this thesis is life beyond protests. I argue that the lives of shack residents who participate in the protests are complex. As opposed to negative and simplistic representations, this thesis illustrates that one needs to be immersed in the lives of shack residents so as to understand them as identifiable human beings who make meaning of their lives. I explore their lives in the shack settlement further and argue that these human beings live their ordinary harmonious lives centred on the practice of greeting. To highlight the complexity of life of protesting informal settlement residents this thesis makes a point that there exist unsettling realities in the shack settlement; unsettling realities that make residents feel to be less of human beings. Kanana residents, therefore, draw from these perpetual unsettling realities to organise and protest. This thesis is based on ethnographic research, which was conducted between September 2015 and February 2016. During fieldwork, I observed and interacted in informal conversations with Kanana residents. With the main co-producers of this work, I carried out their life histories and further in-depth interviews.