People With No Stake (Sans-Parts)

Growing out of the brutal economic constraints, the cycle of extraction and predation and the large-scale social disintegration that characterises the ‘necropolis’, come a body of people described by Achille Mbembe as the ‘people with no stake’ (les sans-part); a vast mass of ‘superfluous beings’ that the state and the market itself have no use for.

As Mbembe tells us, they are a people who can neither be sold into slavery as in the early days of modern capitalism, nor reduced to forced labour as in the era of colonialism and under apartheid. From the point of view of capitalism, they are completely useless – ‘a mass of human meat delivered up to violence, illness, North American evangelism, Islamic crusades and all kinds of phenomena involving witchcraft and visions’.

Abandoned as surplus to society, they have in effect nothing left to lose. Their presence in the public domain expresses itself more and more in the form of “murderous episodes of xenophobia or ethnic conflict, protests against the cost of living, or as part of battles to access basic resources” Social struggle is thus reduced to a struggle for survival, focused on access to resources. (See Mbembe, Fifty years of African decolonisation, Chimurenga Online: http://www.chimurenga.co.za/page-147.html)

This apocalyptic vision stands in contrast to the utopian potential identified by urbanist AbdouMaliq Simone in the figure he describes as the “dealer”. Urban city dwellers who live in marginalized environments, the trader uses their “transience,” often brought about by migration, to develop new radical ways of living – mobility, provisionality and entrepeneurship – in under-resourced environments.

Could these be the same body of people – who fight for three different countries in the Congo wars and sell Nollywood vids across borders, say? And what happens when they meet/clash? We explore this question as a way of understanding the the “xenophobic” violence in South Africa in May 2008.

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