Accepted paper:

Seeing Like a Second City: The Politics of African Home-Ownership in Late Colonial Bulawayo, Zimbabwe (1949-1980)


Maurice Hutton (University of Edinburgh)

Paper short abstract:

This paper challenges analyses of "the" late colonial city as if it were a microcosm of the state, by examining how low-level municipal actors in Zimbabwe's second city captured authority from the state, to "modernise" African townships in ways that often contradicted state policy.

Paper long abstract:

Late colonial urban reforms across Africa saw expansive, "modern" African townships replace the municipal 'locations' for transient migrant workers, concomitant with paternalistic attempts to inculcate a 'civic consciousness' amongst the now-stabilised urban African communities. The impetus for reform is usually assumed to have emanated from the centre of a topographically ordered state, producing colonial cities with generic segregatory planning and policies. Colonial capitals steal the limelight as exemplars of "the" colonial city - taken to be a microcosm of the state. This paper challenges these notions, revealing how structural tension between Zimbabwe's second city, Bulawayo, and the state, made space for low-level municipal actors to pursue alternative urban modernising visions. Bulawayo's intransigent town council had always successfully repelled government attempts to intervene in its neglected African location affairs until WWII, when rapid industrial and population expansion led to crisis. Finally submitting to government pressure to resolve drastic African housing shortages, the city council hired an ambitious anthropologist, Dr Ashton, in 1949, to take charge of African administration. At this critical juncture, the city began to take a progressive lead in developing home-ownership and married housing schemes. With the rise of the strongly segregationist Rhodesia Front party in 1962, the white council found itself defending African rights to the city (especially freehold tenure and more integrated planning) - with Ashton at the frontline - against government attempts to curtail them. Thus, African residents struggling for these rights found themselves engaging with a topographically fixed, but topologically shifting colonial state power.

panel P204
Urban property disputes in fragile and transitional settings in Africa