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HERE TODAY, GONE TOMORROW: Series Introduction

Updated: Jun 4, 2023

Ideation, research and writing by Kelsey Blignaut

This series explores city space within the confines of post-apartheid urban malaise. The South African city is an ensemble of historical consequences. How can South African cities re-align marginalised communities with the use of its own space and assist in negotiating identity through memory?

Historical photograph of members of the Blignaut family in North End before its demolition. (Image curtesy of Kevin Blignaut)

The series is titled Here Today, Gone Tomorrow linking the research to its themes of spatial (in)justice and the forced removals. Part one, forthcoming, of the series serves as an introduction to the hybrid contexts in which racialised South African communities often find themselves straddling: one community, two contexts; one real and one remembered (read: erased).

The notion of space has always been prevalent and highly contested in South Africa. Two major legislative divides straddle South African space and its use – the Apartheid period which de-zoned and shaped South African cities and the post-apartheid democratic management of the growing divide between areas premised on colonial values and townships that have been used as human dumping grounds. The cycle of inequity has evolved into a perpetual, never-ending saga as the township residents engage in outcries of disenfranchisement. The disenfranchised township resident has been denied a ‘right to the city’ as espoused by Henri Lefebvre. This inequality raises the consciousness of spatial (in)justice as advocated by Edward Soja, which stems from the segregationist and unjust apartheid policies.

View of living conditions and urban decay in Pefferville showing apartheid-provided housing no and backyard dwellings. (Image courtesy of J.Wilson).

It is within this social and spatial framework and through the lenses of Soja’s spatial justice and Henri Lefebvre’s notions of the right to the city and its social space that Pefferville, a removed township in East London, South Africa, becomes the subject. This research and study focuses on an understanding of Pefferville - a coloured post-apartheid settlement - spatially and materially, and North End - an area that most of the Pefferville coloured community were forced to leave under the Group Areas Act - as a memory. Critical to part one in the series is an overarching understanding of spatial injustice and inequality. What we need to understand is this: the suburb of Pefferville was created purely as a location site for coloured people to be moved to in submission to the Group Areas Act that advocated for literal racial segregation. What does this say about performances of (in)justice?

View of the Pefferville landscape and nature (Image courtesy of J Wilson). Ariel view of Pefferville.

This is a prelude to a narrative about the contradictions and dichotomies – of real and remembered, of physical and imaginary, of celebrated and forgotten, of mainstream and marginalised. Yet, there are nuances that exist in between these cadences that generate any urban narrative related to how people orientate themselves in urban space (cities); how they negotiate identity of the self and of the collective. The issue is – I, and others like me, have inherited an unjust city.

Written by Kelsey Blignaut

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