“There is life in this place”: “DIY formalisation,” buoyant life and citizenship in Marikana informal settlement, Potchefstroom, South Africa

Published in: Anthropology Southern Africa
Volume 42, issue 4, 2019 , pages: 302–315
DOI: 10.1080/23323256.2019.1639522
Author(s): Hestia VictorDepartment of Social Anthropology, South Africa


Their shack settlement labelled “too informal” to receive basic service provision, the residents of Marikana informal settlement, in Potchefstroom, North West province, South Africa, planned and executed what was locally referred to as “DIY formalisation” in order to politically appeal to the city council to provide them with services. During this formalisation, residents themselves laid out stands and streets and installed water infrastructure in an effort to claim their rights to access to the city and its infrastructures, and to assert their aspirations to a modern, urban life. Without formal municipal services, life in Marikana could be characterised as “raw life,” to use Fiona Ross’s term — an incomplete life in the midst of poverty and suffering. Drawing on Ross’s notion of “respectable life,” I argue that DIY formalisation in Marikana ensured what I call “buoyant life”: the DIY formalisation, and specifically the water infrastructure, enabled not only physical life but also political life (in the form of claims to citizenship and respectability) to be buoyed up against the curtailing tides of state abandonment.

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