So Rhodes fell. Isn’t it now time for the real physical spaces that divide us to fall, to be demolished, to transform and re-contextualised?
My hometown of Actonville made the news in the last few weeks. For all the wrong reasons though. It was cast as a hotbed of xenophobic violence. The news reports focused on riot police subduing angry mob of protesters spewing foreign vengeance. The focus was on the ever-present Hostels.
The hostels were borne as housing for migrant workers in the mines during apartheid. Dormitory housing, for men-only under atrocious undignified conditions, they were frequently described as labour camps at the time.
In 1992, even before the official fall of apartheid, the hostels were seen as a tangible product of apartheid. According to South African history online, discussions had been held between President de Klerk and Nelson Mandela on the question of the hostels and an agreement had been reached that to phase them out and make provision for both family and single person accommodation.
Since then nothing has changed.
Fear. Crime. The hostels loom large on the no-go areas for the communities they located in. The hostels remain hotbeds and incubators of crime and continue to be a symbol of fear and division in struggling communities.
I know. I have watched it within my community first hand.
Almost two decades ago, my thesis revolved around the divisive nature of the Actonville hostel located at the edge of our township.
The hostels at the time, housed largely Zulu migrant workers who worked in and around the metal industries and mines in the area. Around the time of the first democratic elections, they continually erupted in protests, violence and crime. The two neighbouring townships alongside it the then Indian area – Actonville and the largely Xhosa area -Wattville, were equal in their apprehension and fear of those dominant forms.
Over the years, the inhabitants continue to hold the community ransom. Unknown inhabitants linger in and out, without clear ownership and control. Un-serviced, crumbling buildings where criminals regularly defy police by hiding within them.