How might we understand inclusionary rights to common means of life within landscapes of entrenched exclusion? This essay addresses this question through processes of racialized dispossession, segregation, industrialization, and activism, through the specific contradictory space of industrial-residential South Durban. Beginning with the colonial effects of Victorian expertise, intervention, and subjectivity with respect to vitality, variously construed, the article argues that biopolitical tools have been harnessed to divergent imperatives throughout twentieth-century South Africa. Within these contradictions, South Durban's segregated populations were provided segregated housing, access to industrial work, proximity to the city center, and, by the 1950s, exposure to toxic pollution. Differentiated biopolitics generated specific opportunities and frustrations. As apartheid entered a phase of deepening crisis, Durban's subalterns began to organize in new ways to demand their right to the city. Importantly, while actual commons may have been elusive, the idea of commons has remained politically vital.