Accepted Paper:

Crumbling lines: "Matters relating to this border fence"   


Sarah Godsell (University of Johannesburg)

Paper short abstract:

This paper explores the way battles for control, land access, and acknowledgement of power and personhood played out in the construction of a border fence. This case study probes the meaning inside, and beyond, the materiality of the fence.

Paper long abstract:

Fencing can be an intimate process, when the fence building involves the labour of the two parties being separated hands. The push and pull between the fence being constructed or not can also be a tension between different assertions of livelihood. Fences are multiply representative: ownership, danger, belonging. This paper draws on Isobel Hofymeyr's work examining the intimacy of fencing, with a case-study from Hammanskraal, South Africa. The tensions I navigate are those which occurred between white farmers and what was then called a "tribal authority", the AmaNdebele a Moletlane. The white farmers officially owned their farms, while the land belonging to the AmaNdebele a Moletlane was held "in trust" by the Department of Bantu Affairs. Using a series of letters written between these three parties, this paper examines the intimate process around constructing this fence, which was to become a physical, racial, and national border. This border construction was minute and minutely contested, from the strands of wire used and the time fencing was to happen, to the contestations of language in the negotiations. The language used to address the different groups is also indicative of attitudes and the construction of groups and identities. This paper examines the way this fence was constructed and permeated over time, and what this meant about desires, anxieties, livelihoods, existences, and the power involved in communication and transaction.

Panel P141
Lines of Control - Lines of Desire: Towards an Integrated History of Fencing in Southern Africa