The Third Force of Ubuhlalism: Living Politics, Living Learning and Futurity
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In South Africa, the poor have their own university, politics and philosophy. The state and elite evict poor people from cities, make decisions on their behalf, and relegate them to unsafe and inhumane conditions. The post-Apartheid state has failed the poor. Recognising the government’s inadequacies, Abahlali baseMjondolo (Abahlali or AbM), the movement of/for/by the poor, claim what is rightfully theirs: land, housing and being treated with human dignity. This thesis studies AbM and their philosophy and politics, Ubuhlalism, to investigate Abahlali’s world-making practices. Taking Ubuhlalism as a point of departure for a situated feminist research praxis, I aim to research AbM on their own terms. Through aligning to Abahlali’s own narratives, those found in AbM’s counter-archive and from my in-person hangouts with the movement, this thesis seeks to trouble theoretical frameworks such as Achille Mbembe’s (2003, 2019) necropolitics, that relegate AbM to the status of living dead. My critique argues that theorisations that reduce oppressed groups to their oppression obscure marginalised groups’ lived realities and resistance strategies, thereby withholding their futurity. To listen closely to Abahlali’s investments in futurity I investigate Abahlali’s rehearsals for the future, highlighting how AbM insists on a futurity that is alternative to the futures propagated by the state/elite. I put Abahlali’s world-making practices in dialogue with Stefano Harney and Fred Moten’s (2013) Undercommons to draw attention to AbM’s practices of refusal, study and planning as strategies that resist systems of oppression such as the criminalisation/racialisation of poverty. In this thesis, I ask what are the world-making practices of Abahlali? How do their lived politics insist on an alternative sense of futurity that resists their relegation to the status of living dead? And, what can be learned from Ubuhlalism as practiced by AbM in shaping a situated feminist research praxis?