The Cape Flats, that windswept, treeless, barren, sandy area between two oceans at Africa’s southern tip, is home to more than a million people, approximately one quarter of Cape Town’s population. Many live in the sprawling shack settlements that ring the city. The post-apartheid state is attempting to eradicate such settlements by providing formal houses in planned residential estates. Raw Life, New Hope is concerned with the residents of one such shack settlement, The Park, who moved to new, ‘formal’ houses in The Village, at the turn of the millennium.
Based on 17 years of work, the ethnography introduces readers to core social science topics and modes of theorising. There are few sustained studies of the lives, aspirations and coping strategies of people in impoverished circumstances in South Africa. Still fewer take a longitudinal perspective. This approach has allowed the author to trace how ordinary people attempt to live in accord with their ideals of decency under almost impossible circumstances and to trace the effects of material changes in their lives after 1994 – including democratic transformations and, significantly for the residents, the provision of RDP housing.
The book’s chapters are separated by illustrative breaks (photos, anecdotes, recipes, philosophical reflections on subjects that arose during conversations, maps etc.) that elicit a sense of the everyday, the provocations it poses and how people engage with and attempt to solve the problems of poverty. Detailed descriptions, lively characterisation, verbatim quotes from interviews and conversations give a sense of the particularity of people’s lives and make the characters come alive to readers. An accessible and jargon-free style creates a novelistic feel which will appeal to lay readers as well as academics.