The extent of urban segregation, widespread poverty and the proliferation of shack settlements are striking images for any observer of contemporary South Africa. But beyond the country’s city spaces, which share some similarities with others in the global South, the ubiquitous and sprawling rural settlements of dislocated ‘urban’ poverty are perhaps the most sobering and defining features of the post-apartheid landscape. Sada and Ilinge, located at the northern extremity of the former Ciskei Bantustan, in the Eastern Cape, are two such places (fig. 1). Established in the early 1960s, these rural resettlement sites grew rapidly in the following two decades, as the apartheid government restricted new housing development to basic provision in the rural and impoverished Bantustans. Families and communities resident in small towns across the Cape were brutally removed, very often at gunpoint, and transported like cattle to barren, isolated and inhospitable sites where they were greeted by little more than a single tent for a family. Farm tenants were also relocated in this way. The minimal provision of prefabricated housing was blithely advertised to farm dwellers looking to escape farms for alternative accommodation, sold as a promised land of ‘milk and honey’ by officials wishing to expedite their removal from residences on white-owned farms. The rapidity of such resettlements, the mass uprooting of people with already-marginal livelihoods and the poor provision of housing and infrastructure in the new resettlement sites precipitated a major humanitarian crisis. Food rations provided were barely enough to prevent starvation. Widespread infant mortality and the ubiquitous presence of malnutrition and related diseases were reported in shocking press accounts of these areas, which quickly became known in critical discourse as the ‘dumping grounds’ of apartheid.
This presentation will lay out some of the key findings of my study of the experiences engendered by mass resettlement in the northern Ciskei in the period 1960- 1976. Social inequalities of class, gender and generation shaped a diverse range of experiences and the subjective meanings that individuals attached to their resettlement. Housing shortages, deep poverty, unemployment and widespread reliance on the wages of young migrant men were crucial dynamics in the making of power and the hegemonic projects of new Tribal Authorities in the self-governing Ciskei.