Open Access Journal

ISSN: 2183-2463

Article | Open Access

Housing as a Battlefield Between Self‐Organization and Resistance: The Case of Reclaim the City

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Abstract:  Cities are a place of transformation, since cities are being challenged through various processes, among them gentrification. Likewise, cities are a space for innovation and new solutions, as many changes start locally. Reclaim the City is one such local movement: It is a response to weak statehood which results in a limited ability to solve the housing crisis and the continuation of spatial segregation in Cape Town. Gentrification deepens the housing crisis and has an impact on the most vulnerable groups, black and colored people, who are affected by eviction. Based on a qualitative study, this article first unpacks the weakness of the city authorities regarding housing and then analyzes the relationship between Reclaim the City and the city. This relationship is not to be understood as a binary, conflictual liaison; rather, the relationship is complex, involving resistance but also complementarity, because in the self-organized occupation Reclaim the City offers what the city is not able to provide. The response of the authorities is ambivalent: They welcome self-organization and yet try to control and delegitimize the occupation by criminalizing the occupants. The relationship between Reclaim the City and the city thus shows that self-organization does not necessarily lead to new interfaces between the state and social movements, as often discussed in the context of new municipalism, but rather housing becomes a field of social contestation in that the city and Reclaim the City negotiate for mutual acceptance and legitimation, at times with an open end.

Keywords:  housing; local self‐organization and governance; Reclaim the City; social movements; South Africa



© Antje Daniel. This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 license (, which permits any use, distribution, and reproduction of the work without further permission provided the original author(s) and source are credited.