Accepted Paper:

Good fences make worthy neighbours: Fencing and social transformation in Musina, South Africa.  


Olivia Klimm (Albert-Ludwigs-Universit├Ąt Freiburg)

Paper short abstract:

In Musina, South Africa's northernmost town bordering Zimbabwe, the partial transformation from mining to border economy has contributed to further social differentiation amongst black residents of which new rising private fences are a manifestation.

Paper long abstract:

While historical analyses of the role of fences in ordering Southern African societies revolve around barbed-wire confinement during colonial warfare and forceful enclosure ushering in the epochal dispossession of rural resources, little scholarly attention is given to the meaning of fences in contemporary urban contexts. In South Africa, the ubiquity of fences and their forthright aesthetics can be attributed to the interrelations between a generalized fear of crime-induced loss and influential sectors of the economy putting high premiums on insuring and securing under-fenced private property. More specifically, the high standards of investment in professional fencing and its complementary services ("armed response") can be interpreted as an expression of a persistent perception of "swart gevaar" in view of the still gaping inequalities along racialized fault lines and its twin-phenomenon of an economic redistribution occurring as frequent burglary. Within black Musina, bordering Zimbabwe, fences tell yet another story: The switch from a high-voltage electrified frontline to a friendly interstate boundary coincides with a shift from copper to diamond mining and has created a border economy with salaried and informal opportunities leading to further social differentiation amongst black inhabitants of the area. Thus, ironically, the negotiated porosity of the new border regime has contributed to the rise of fancy fences around some households of former mineworkers, often merely erected as markers of wealth and social distinction. This paper, based on 16 months of ethnographic fieldwork, contributes to the uprooting of the flawed narrative of unity and solidarity in the "kasie" (Dickinson 2015).

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