Patronage from below: Political unrest in an informal settlement in South Africa

Hannah J. Dawson (2014). Patronage from below: Political unrest in an informal settlement in South Africa. African Affairs, 113 (453): 518-539.


Since the mid-2000s militant local political protests have been a frequent occurrence in informal settlements and townships across South Africa. Allegations of corruption and favouritism figure prominently in these demonstrations that often aim to remove local officials who are perceived not to have delivered on their electoral promises. Focusing on the relationship between patronage politics and local protests, this article analyses the 2011 unrest in Zandspruit informal settlement on the outskirts of Johannesburg. The protests were triggered by intra-African National Congress (ANC) rivalry and factionalism in the build-up to the local elections. Through an analysis of the political opportunities, framing processes, and mobilizing structures of the protests, the article depicts the ways in which patronage and collective action work together. By doing so, it reveals the agency “from below” of local elite and subaltern groups in defining the formation and mutual advancement of patron–client relations. The article thus shows how the close relationship between the ANC and the state at the local level gives rise to particular patron–client relations between low-income residents, the ANC, and the state. As a result, the state is not understood as a bureaucratic dispenser of public goods on the basis of rights but as a relational system of reciprocal dependence and obligation.

Available from African Affairs[sub required].


Publication Type Journal Article
Publisher African Affairs
Year 2014
Author(s) Hannah J. Dawson
DOI 10.1093/afraf/adu056
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