(Un)Homely in Cape Town: contested space and the post-apartheid urban narrative

Master Thesis


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Negotiation of urban space is particularly pertinent to South African history as a site of social and spatial conflict resulting from the legislative practices and social engineering of the apartheid government in the form of the Group Areas Act (1950). As a postcolonial and post-apartheid city, Cape Town has the distinction of evolving from pre-apartheid's least segregated city to apartheid's most segregated city, with many of the injustices of the past perpetuated in the post-apartheid era by its current neoliberal order. Yet, in The Rediscovery of the Ordinary (1991), South African writer Njabulo Ndebele asserts that Johannesburg has always been, the centre of South African resistance and “spectacle” – and the object of studies such as Johannesburg: The Elusive Metropolis (2008). Located at the intersection of urban and postcolonial studies, this study is grounded by the framework of ‘critical urban theory' (Michel De Certeau, Henri Lefevre, Neil Brenner), which frames urban space as a “site, medium and outcome” of histories of social power. It therefore reads the post-apartheid narratives of The Woman Next Door (2016) by Yewande Omotoso, Thirteen Cents (2001) by Sello Duiker and Living Coloured: Because Black and White Were Taken (2019) by Yusuf Daniels, as representations of the city as “politically and ideologically mediated, socially contested and therefore malleable” space, by drawing on Sarah Nuttall's assumption of place – specifically the city – as a constitutive subject of certain narratives as well as Homi Bhabha's notion of the “unhomely”. The concepts of home, unhoming and homelessness are therefore used to establish how history and space collide to create a palimpsestic reading of Cape Town. Thus, the study maps spatial contestation in central and peripheral locations of the city and raises questions of racialised and class-based (un)belonging as representative of the post-apartheid South African city.