Conviviality in Bellville: an ethnography of space, place, mobility and being

Master Thesis


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University of Cape Town

This study provides insight into the experiences of mobility and migration in contemporary South Africa, contributing to a field of literature about multiculturalism and urban public space in globalizing cities. It is a study of how the mystique of conviviality configures amongst a diverse migrant and mobile population that frequents Bellville's central business district surrounding the train station - an area located approximately 25 kilometres from Cape Town, and a prominent destination for informal trading, shop keeping, and other ad hoc livelihoods. Understanding the emergence of conviviality and the forms it takes in this particular locality lies at the heart of this thesis. I argue that conviviality emerges out of shared understandings of Bellville as a zone of mobility, of safety and of livelihood opportunities; and of negotiated meanderings within particular spaces of the Bellville central business district. Bellville's migrant networks become convivial when individuals innovatively sidestep away from tensions broiled in rhetoric of the "outsider" and instead negotiate space - both physical and social - to derive relations that often result in mutual benefits. This study also takes into consideration the greater international political and local socio- economic factors that drive migration, relationships and conviviality, and how they are intertwined in the everyday narrative of "insiders" and "outsiders" in Bellville. The Bellville central business district demonstrates the realities of interconnected local and global hierarchies of citizenship and belonging and how they emerge in a world of accelerated mobility. Ethnographic research in Bellville further demonstrates how the emergence of conviviality in everyday public life represents a critical field for contemplating contemporary notions of human rights, citizenship and belonging.