Accepted Paper:

Meanwhile and Next Time: futurity and anxiety in a contemporary African city  


Alex Wafer (University of the Witwatersrand)

Paper short abstract:

This paper considers the ways in which young immigrant men in Johannesburg construct meaningful lives in a context of what Jane Guyer (2007) calls a “hollowed out near-future”. In a context of uncertain futures, young men invest in short-term relationships and impossible future fantasies.

Paper long abstract:

Based on research among young unemployed immigrant men who attend a Bible-study and soup kitchen in inner-city Johannesburg, this paper considers the ways in which such young men remake urban spaces in response to precarious presents and uncertain futures. Drawing on Jane Guyers (2007) discussion of the "hollowed out near-future" that characterises the everyday lives of many African urban residents, I demonstrate how narratives of (mythical) past, (urgent) present and (uncertain) future are materialised in urban space. In particular, I discuss how the inner-city neighbourhood in which these young men live is associated with the urgent present: the need for food, shelter and other means of survival and actualisation. While this frequently implies some kind of ethical compromise (in the form of petty crime, hustling or gambling), seemingly-impossible future fantasies of success and ethical integrity are associated with escape from the inner-city. In a context of increased precarity, these young men suggest not a marginal urban practice but rather an increasingly ubiquitous typology. This paper suggests ways in which we might usefully rethink temporality and urban space.

Panel P029
Time as politics: past present and future in African urbanism