Amakomiti: Grassroots Democracy in South African Shack Settlements.

AuthorMuiu, Mueni wa

Ngwane, Trevor. Amakomiti: Grassroots Democracy in South African Shack Settlements. London: Pluto Press, 2021.

Can people who live in shacks teach us about democracy? Trevor Ngwane begins this book with the following question: Ngingalitholaphi ikomiti lalen-dawo? Where can I find this place's committee? To answer this question, Ngwane sets out to study four informal settlements of South Africa's nine provinces. Organizing among shack communities can be traced back to protests against forced removals by the apartheid regime. They occupied private land because the state failed to provide adequate housing. Sometimes communities were forced to live in "temporary" housing for forty years. In seeking to answer this question, Ngwane draws back a curtain and reveals a world that few know about. He visited forty-six informal settlements, of which forty-five had committees. He distinguishes between autonomous committees and people's committees. The latter are formed by the state or NGOs. His focus is mainly on the self-organization of the committees, not their physical organizations. These include ten settlements each in Gauteng, North West, and Kwa Zulu Natal, and sixteen in Eastern Cape. The smallest settlement had twenty shacks, and the largest had eight thousand. Most had between one hundred and five hundred shacks, with Alexandria (Johannesburg) having a thousand shacks a month. The number of informal settlements increased between 1990 and 1994 with the elimination of bans on political organizations and apartheid laws. Most of the settlements are named after the pioneers, how the place was occupied, or after major political leaders. Seventy percent of the settlements have electricity, while 65 percent have access to water taps and 39 percent have long-drop toilets. The first committees set up are the people's committees, which are followed by ward committees (state). There were people's committees in thirty-five settlements. Life in shantytowns is difficult. One has to struggle for every single thing that other communities take for granted, from being alive to getting water and toilets. Amakomiti (Zulu for "committee") people learned to depend on themselves from defense and plot allocation to basic services. Most of these committees rely on their experiences in rural areas to govern their communities. Sometimes they work alongside township organizations but on other occasions they don't, depending on the issues at stake. Ngwane calls the...

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