Tale of two townships: race, class and the changing contours of collective action in the Cape Town townships of Guguletu and Bonteheuwel, 1976 - 2006
Staniland, John Luke Seneviratne
This thesis examines the emergence and evolution of ‘progressive activism and organisation’ between 1976 and 2006 in the African township of Guguletu and the coloured township of Bonteheuwel within the City of Cape Town. In doing so it compares both how activism has changed over time (including as a result of democratisation) and how it differed between and within these two communities. Whilst at heart an empirical study of activism it seeks to move beyond the specificities of the cases studied to also draw broader conclusions about the nature and causes of collective action and organisation. Drawing on both social movement and class theory it aims to shed some light on the fundamental question of the relationship between structure and agency - why do people act and what defines the form of action they take? It combines a quantitative study of the changing relationship between race, class and state policy with qualitative studies of activism in Guguletu and Bonteheuwel. These two studies cover in detail: the development and unfolding of the riots of 1976; the great boycott season of 1979/80 which saw large numbers of Africans and coloureds across Cape Town drawn into school, bus and consumer boycotts; the development of activism between 1980 and 1985, including the impact of the United Democratic Front; the township unrest of 1985-7; the transition period between 1988 and 1994; and post-apartheid activism in the two communities. It draws on theories of class which recognise the importance of peoples’ positions within the state’s distributional networks (citizenship), experiences and expectations of social mobility and the impact of historical experience of class formation on expectation (moral economy). In doing this it shows how differences in race, education, age and labour market position all interacted to pattern activism in the case studies. Struggles in Cape Town throughout the period 1976-2006 were not dualistic conflict between classes, races or between the oppressed and forces of global capital, nor were they mechanistic responses to the opening and closing of political space. They were complex coalitions of competing and collaborating class forces which were defined by the underlying nature of the city’s political economy and which emerged in interaction with changing opportunities for action.