This article explores how undocumented African immigrants negotiate challenges of housing and house-holding in urban South Africa. It chronicles an itinerant household of young male migrants in Cape Town over a five-year period, tracking the household’s movements and sojourns across the city through different buildings and residences. The ethnography examines the migrants’ distinct approach toward householding: a mode of dwelling marked by strategies of concealment and separateness and by deliberately staying unsettled. Disciplined and artful, the migrants craft an exhausting, but surprisingly effective style of tenanting and domesticity. This household’s capability at finding and funding places to live in Cape Town demonstrates that there is success in invisibility and precarity. Examining a fluid urban context in which growing anti-immigrant prejudice renders many neighborhoods inhospitable spaces for African outsiders, this ethnography complicates dominant descriptions of African migrants and refugees in contemporary South Africa as impoverished, wholly destitute victims.
Research Article|December 01 2017
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James Williams; Dwelling Discreetly: Undocumented Migrants in Cape Town. Comparative Studies of South Asia, Africa and the Middle East 1 December 2017; 37 (3): 420–426. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/1089201x-4279116
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