Struggles within Struggles: Histories of Development, Displacement, and Demobilization of African Women’s Movements for Urban Survival in South Africa’s Past and Future


African Humanities Program Postdoctoral Fellowships


Historical Studies


This project documents the life histories of African women involved in movements for urban survival, in particular housing, over the last 40 years in South Africa by linking and comparing two moments of collective organizing in the shack/township of Crossroads, the longest surviving squatter camp in South Africa. The first case study looks at leaders of the 1970s who repeatedly resisted forced removals to the Bantustans, spearheading a struggle for tenure rights which continues today. The second case studies the Women’s Power Group: 300 squatters who came together in the late 1990s to demand government accountability of funds for undelivered housing. In both cases, there were serious punitive repercussions for individuals as well as gender-based organizations that challenges power dynamics and development practices. These movements are important windows into the gendered and generational dynamics of labor migration, displacement, poverty, and housing over time, and highlight the central role of women in apartheid resistance and squatter struggles over slum clearance today. The project contributes to scholarly work that challenges dominant narratives of apartheid struggles and ongoing urban development controversies in the global south today.