Nightwatching: Male Migrant Networks and the Sustenance of Brotherhood in Cape Town
Williams, James R
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This dissertation provides an ethnographic account of companionship, enterprise, and urban survival among four transnational networks of young male African migrants in Cape Town, South Africa. It is based on anthropological fieldwork conducted in South Africa between 2006 and 2009. The first three chapters examines labors and undertakings the young migrants action collaboratively in the context of the everyday. The first chapter studies ways the migrants navigate a hostile urban landscape using sensorial maps of the city to mitigate risk and evade state surveillance. The second describes how the youths organize themselves as entrepreneurial operations. The third chapter shows the migrants residing discreetly in Cape Town within and across various bachelor households, examining the kinds of domesticity these forms of male householding generate and foreclose. The dissertation employs the concept of network to chart and investigate forms of relationship and relatedness these migrants comprise, embrace, sustain, and produce. Despite the migrants’ uncertain legal status in South Africa, the negative stereotypes they are branded by and the risks of violence they face there, and their exclusion from conventional modes of family and community life, I argue the youths’ networks afford these migrants a form of mobility and companionship that helps secure their survival as urban and economic actors. I consider how the youths’ lateral, flexible forms of peer association – relations subsumed under a special rubric of ‘brotherhood’ – make certain forms of living possible. The ethnography challenges dominant depictions of African migrants in South Africa as destitute victims. The dissertation uses the migrants’ experiences in Cape Town to frame an exploration of life in a fast-changing, expensive, and segregated African metropolis. The urban setting of my study is examined throughout the chapters, but is foregrounded as particularly deadly and eventful in the final chapter. South Africa has emerged recently as a hosting country to large numbers of African migrants and refugees, whose growing presence has roused rivalry and friction between South Africans and migrants. These tensions climaxed in May 2008 when a ferocious campaign of anti-immigrant violence broke out across South Africa, internally displacing hundreds of thousands of foreign nationals. The violence and its aftermath are examined in the fourth chapter, which uses evidence obtained from my participation in the relief and advocacy efforts in Cape Town to query official narratives and explanations of events. I suggest the crisis provides valuable insight into debates on migrants, citizens, and belonging in post-apartheid South Africa.