The Rise of the Compound–Hostel–Location Assemblage as Infrastructure of South African Colonial Power: The Case of Walvis Bay 1915–1960

Walvis Bay detention barracks, 1985

The ‘infrastructural turn’ in social science conceives of infrastructure as having a political life; it is deployed to confer and maintain political authority, but it is also generative of ‘the political’. This article articulates this basic premise with the contention that space and circulation are integral to apparatuses of power, specifically in terms of orchestrating and stabilising what Foucault termed ‘the right disposition of men and things, arranged so as to lead to a convenient end’.1

Based on archival study in Namibia and South Africa, the article examines the changing spatial disposition of African ‘men and things’ at Walvis Bay between 1915 and 1960, and how these articulated with the changing ‘convenient ends’ of African urban administration in Namibia. It demonstrates how problematisations in the activity of governing urban Africans during this period provoked the contested rise of key colonial urban political infrastructure – the compound–hostel–location assemblage. Research has shown how South Africa’s Department of Native Affairs (DNA), particularly in its focus on urban housing, was central to the state’s project of ‘internal colonialism’.2 This article shows how, especially from 1954, the DNA’s role extended to ‘external colonialism’, particularly so in Walvis Bay, a town castigated for its chaotic existence.

Source: Journal of Southern African Studies via Taylor & Francis Online (subscription required)

Photo Credit: Ian Barbour


Publication Type Journal Article
Publisher Journal of Southern African Studies (Taylor & Francis Online)
Year 2015
Author(s) Andrew Byerley
Other Numbers Volume 41, Issue 3, pages 519-539.
DOI 10.1080/03057070.2015.1032724
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