By Raffael Beier (TU Dortmund University) |
Since 1994, South Africa’s government has significantly invested in the provision of low-cost housing as a means to fight the legacy of apartheid. The provision of ‘free housing’ for homeownership to non-white urban poor should not only fight informal housing and historical inequality but also promote socio-economic progress of so-called beneficiaries. However, by leaving state houses, some people provoked anger among politicians, confused about beneficiaries throwing away their most valuable asset while moving back to shacks. Conceptually, there are indeed doubts whether people would move upwards if they sell or let state houses. Rather, one assumes displacement to worse living conditions as a result of inappropriately located and inflexible state housing and the related inability to sustain a living inside the house.
However, so far hardly any research has looked closely at experiences, rationales, and strategies behind people’s decision to leave ‘free housing’. What motivates them and where do they move? Do they leave to survive or because they aspire to something better? In this paper, I use own biographical interviews with 27 people that sold or let their state houses in the Gauteng to analyse ‘leaving’ from people’s perspectives. I argue that for many people, ‘leaving’ can connect to long-term life and housing ambitions while simultaneously being a means to cope with shocks, mass unemployment, and persistent inequality. Stressing the macroeconomic and societal embeddedness of housing projects, ‘leaving’ may be understood as people-led reconfigurations of social policy, challenging normative dualisms of downward vs. upward mobility and progress vs. failure.