Accepted paper:

Filling the Void of Post-Apartheid: Miracles of the Zion Christian Church in the Life of South African Township Dweller


Vit Zdralek (Faculty of Arts, Charles University)

Paper short abstract:

Through an experience of a middle-aged male township dweller, the paper looks at the role the Zion Christian Church in South Africa plays in people’s lives, providing them not only with sensible orientation in the situation of deterritorialization but also with a range of practical opportunities.

Paper long abstract:

Brief look at the literature reveals that, in African post-colonial context, the 'in/formal' distinction is usually used to describe economic phenomena. With regard to urban environments, the ways human settlements are built becomes the main concern, its histories, spatial relations and infrastructure, and how these factors determine people's lives, again, mainly in terms of their economic activities. In my paper, I would like to blur and broaden the 'in/formal' conceptual framework by including indigenous religious institutions as powerful actors literally filling the void left by the apartheid and post-apartheid state. The Zion Christian Church, the largest African indigenous church in South Africa, has not only played a major role in mending people's souls and bodies crushed by apartheid structures and left behind by post-apartheid success story but it has also played a practical role in providing its members with job opportunities, financial assistance, student bursaries and extended social networks of mutual trust to rely on in bad times. In may paper, I do not intend to cover the range of its economic activities, instead I shall focus on an experience - as narrated, observed and analysed in songs - of a church member and Mamelodi township dweller of rural origin who had been the subject of my long-term ethnographic biographically focused research between 2006 and 2011. I believe that his grassroots perspective may help to shed new light on the role of religious institutions as crucial players filling the spaces left by post-colonial states with alternative solutions irreducible to the 'in/formal' dichotomy.

panel P092
Contemporary politics of informality: encounters between the "formal" and "informal" African city