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This chapter explores the ironic fact that, in the southern African societies we like to think of as liberated and postcolonial, many actively seek hierarchical and dependent relationships with well-placed others. Tracing a regional history in which social orders based on the scarcity and value of people were abruptly overturned by ones in which people came to be regarded as in surplus, it seeks to historicize both the contemporary hunger of many of “the poor” for social dependence and the evident eagerness of the propertied classes to evade such entanglements. Understood against this long history, the chapter argues, the desire for dependent relations with powerful others is not some archaic and reactionary remnant of the paternalistic past but a very up-to-date response to current economic conditions. This has implications for contemporary debates around social policy in general and for discussions of “dependency” in particular.

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