The South African Homeless People’s Federation Interrogating the myth of participation by Leopold Podlashuc

13 05 2013

The South African Homeless People’s Federation Interrogating the myth of participation
by Leopold Podlashuc

Click here for the full PDF of the paper by Leopold Podlashuc

This paper is an exploration of the ways in which participatory development has become
a key mechanism for both extending (globalising) and consolidating neoliberal hegemony.
The paper hinges on a case study of the South African Homeless Peoples Federation
(SAHPF) and comprises two parts. The first part maps the milieu in which this politicised
development takes place, revealing the local and global context of dispossession that
provides the backdrop to the case study. This part critically interrogates the emergence
of the participatory development paradigm. It is argued that this normatively fashionable
discourse of development has come to be dominated by three essential vectors of neoliberal
ideology: housing, microfinance and social capital. It will be revealed that participatory, (or
rather, ‘bootstrap’) development portrays itself as ostensibly anti-neoliberal, while, at the
same time, it co-opts the tools and vocabulary of the Left to carry out the economic project
of the Right. This apparent contradiction between rhetoric and outcome will be seen to
be consistent with the broad political alliance that Gramsci defined as an ‘historical bloc’,
which consolidates class differences to create hegemony.
In a hegemonic system, democracy between the ruling group and the ruled
groups exists to the extent that the development of the economy, and there-
fore of the legislation which expresses that development, holds open the
channels for the ruled to enter the ruling group. (Gramsci 1975)
In the current era, this historic bloc includes the medley of moderate, liberal and right wing
discourses that legitimise globalised neoliberalism despite their intellectual differences.
The second part of this paper traces how this consolidation of political, normative and
ideological agendas occurred through the lens of the SAHPF. Relying on interview data
collected over a seven-year period (2003–10),1 it questions how an ‘Alliance’ (a term coined
by Arjun Appadurai in 2001) of academics and development practitioners, imbued with
the political agency of neoliberal hegemony, effectively manipulated the South African
environment to manufacture a social movement of homeless black women. It clarifies how
this seeding took root so well, and how, despite its artificial insemination, the SAHPF
established itself as a grassroots movement with considerable agency and traction. The
The South African Homeless People’s Federation
Citizenship and democracy
paper then show show the SAHPF became a crucial global relay point for the spread of the
participatory development paradigm through Shack/Slum Dwellers International (SDI),
the transnational social movement that it helped create. Operating in at least 33 countries
across the South, SDI has become the hegemonic-actor-from-below, dominating the field of
development. Here, the tensions between SDI and SAHPF are examined, demonstrating how
the genuine and artificial motivations of the ‘participatory development’ paradigm ultimately
fragmented. The paper shows how a resolution came about for the SAHPF by amputating its
links to SDI and the lucrative funding that underpinned it. This is a dialectical tale of thesis,
antithesis and synthesis.

Review of No Land! No House! No Vote! for Amandla Magazine

8 08 2011
Amandla Magazine, South Africa – Jun 1, 2011
by Martin Legassick

On 19 December 2007, encouraged by their Democratic Alliance (DA) councilor, backyarders in Delft illegally occupied unfinished houses in the N2 Gateway scheme. After battling in court, they were evicted on 19 February 2008. Many of them decided to remain across the road from the N2 Gateway houses, and built shacks along the pavement of Symphony Way. After a further 20 months of contestation these people were evicted again, to the nearby Blikkiesdorp Temporary Relocation Area (TRA).

Read the rest of this entry »

Op-ed: Freedom of speech is upside-down

5 08 2011

Note: Versions of this article have appeared in the Catalogue of the 2011 Jozi Book Fair and 5 August 2011 edition of The New Age.

We live in a world turned on its head, a desolate, de-souled world that practices the superstitious worship of machines and the idolatry of arms, an upside-down world with its left on its right, its belly button on its backside, and its head where its feet should be… It’s a world where children work and don’t play, where ‘development’ makes people poorer, where cars are in streets where people should be, where a tiny minority of the world consumes a majority of its resources…If the world is upside-down the way it is now, wouldn’t we have to turn it over to get it to stand up straight?

-Eduardo Galeano

Celebrated Uruguayan writer Eduardo Galeano would surely also agree that there is something upside-down about the way freedom of speech is meted out in our society. Read the rest of this entry »

‘Bloody agents’ should give less attention to Malema

16 07 2011

July 15 2011 at 09:24am – IOL
By Donald Paul

IOL Tonight Pic 15 Jul 11 CT Books Fanonian Practise

Fanonian Practices in South Africa: From Steve Biko to Abahlali baseMajondolo

Nigel C Gibson – University of KwaZulu-Natal Press

Review: Donald Paul

At a time when the “bloody agents” (normally referred to as the “media”) discuss Julius Malema’s skills as a leader versus Jacob Zuma’s cunning as a follower, Nigel Gibson, a visiting research fellow at the School of Developmental Studies, University of KwaZulu-Natal, has produced a philosophically refreshing book on what constitutes a civil society and whether we can lay claim to it in our new democracy. Read the rest of this entry »

Academia: Spatial Dynamics, Contested Development, and Competing Rights in Cape Town, South Africa

7 07 2011

PDF DOWNLOAD: Spatial Dynamics, Contested Development, and Competing Rights in Cape Town, South Africa

by Duncan Ranslem, June 2011

A thesis submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Bachelor of Arts (Geography)

Chapter 1

The right to housing needs to be dissociated from the right to property and returned to the right to inhabit.
-Don Mitchell, The Right to the City

Adopted in 1996 after the fall of the apartheid state, the South African constitution enshrines the rights of all people in South Africa. Enumerated among these rights is a right to property and a right to housing.2 The former represents the claims to ownership and private property that are familiar in U.S. law and Western tradition: the rights to possess property, and through this possession, to use it as one sees fit, to accrue any benefits that are derived from it, and to be protected from its undue expropriation. The right to housing, on the other hand, recognizes the fundamental need for access to shelter and basic social connections. Under its provisions, every home is protected from demolition, and its inhabitants protected from eviction, except after a court has considered all the relevant circumstances. Moreover, South Africa’s municipal governments are responsible, within their available resources, to realize the right to adequate housing for all. Juxtaposed against one another, these rights represent claims that are often contradictory. The underlying contradiction, in many cases, is that a person’s home is not necessarily that person’s property. Such homes may exist, either as, or located on, property owned by the state or by a private entity. In such cases, where the lawful property owner is met with the unlawful appropriation of his property as someone else’s home, the right to that property and the right to housing come into conflict. Read the rest of this entry »

Argus Review: Street people book their place on library shelf

1 06 2011

Review: Street people book their place on library shelf.pdf

by Jeanne Hromnik – Cape Argus Op-ed for 25 May 2011

Blog: Alternative campaigning in the Cape Town municipal elections

19 05 2011

Mandela Park Anti Vote Summit took place on Saturday with activists and community members from across the township.Blog: EnergyGeographies

What do communities do if politician after politician fails to deliver their election promises of new homes, electricity supply or clean water. On Saturday I joined activists in Cape Town who are articulating a new response to the crisis of service delivery in the city.


It is early on Saturday morning in Khayelitsha, one of South Africa’s fastest growing townships located on the windswept and sandy Cape Flats area of Cape Town. Amongst the government constructed houses and informal settlements that make up the township the Cape Town of five star hotels and Michelin starred restaurants seems even further away than the 10 mile journey to get to this vibrant part of the city. Read the rest of this entry »

Brown University: Community Report on housing struggles in Eastridge, Michell’s Plain

24 02 2011

* Click here to access the entire paper on housing struggles in Eastridge *


This project aimed to explore the social, economic and political changes which have occurred over the last fifteen years in several areas in Cape Town, including Eastridge. To do this, interviews were conducted over a three week period. The researchers were supplied with some initial contacts in the area by the research coordinator, and from there the snowballing technique was used to acquire more informants. The people interviewed by the researchers represented a diverse spectrum of interests and roles within the community. For Eastridge, the following informants provided the information on the area: a representative of a local school; previous and current ward councillors, a local general practitioner; a representative of the Mitchell’s Plain Urban Renewal Program (URP); a member of the Mitchell’s Plain Concerned Hawkers and Traders Association; representatives of the Eastridge Community Centre; activists in the Eastridge anti-evication Campaign; a worker at the National Institute of Crime Prevention (NICRO); a housing activist from the Cape Town Community Housing Company (CTCHC) village; and a real estate agent operating in the Eastridge area. This document is organised into three sections: first, a brief description of the area is given, through information from the informants as well as from the researchers’ perceptions from their time spent in the area. Second, an analysis of the key issues in Eastridge is explored. This is organised into two parts; the first looks at the key themes which emerged in the interviews with the key informants, while the second part looks at the themes covered in the literature regarding the area. The third section is a photograph album of the area which the researchers took during their time spent in Eastridge. While this document is by no means supposed to represent all the issues that Eastridge faces, nor the many opinions present in the neighbourhood, the key informants show a diverse spectrum of interests and roles within the community, and thus provided useful insight into the key issues in Eastridge.

Paper: Insurgent Planning- Situating Radical Planning in the Global South

23 02 2011


This article revisits the notion of radical planning from thevstandpoint of the global South. Emerging struggles for citizenship in the global South, seasoned by the complexities of state–citizen relations within colonial and post-colonial regimes, offer an historicized view indispensable to counter-hegemonic planning practices. The article articu-lates the notion of insurgent planning as radical planning practices that respond to neoliberal specifics of dominance through inclusion – that is, inclusive governance. It characterizes the guiding principles for insurgent planning practices as counter-hegemonic, transgressive and imaginative. The article contributes to two current conversations within planning scholarship: on the implication of grassroots insurgent citizenship for planning, and on (de)colonization of planning theory.

Download full PDF: Insurgent Planning- Situating Radical Planning in the Global South by Faranak Miraftab – 2009

Really, it is a shame

15 04 2010
by Lindela Figlan of Abahlali baseMjondolo
An abridged version was published in the Daily News on 15 April 2010

South Africans are facing tough times.  It is a time when there is no humanity, a time when no one in government is interested to listen to your story if you are a poor person.  There are good thinkers in this country, but if their ideologies are coming from the bottom up, from poor communities, no one is prepared to listen carefully.
Read the rest of this entry »