The personal politics of disaster: Narratives of survivors of a south african shanty town fire

Stewart J. ; Swartz L. ; Ward C. (2012)


Despite the fact that natural disasters occur more commonly in low and middle income countries than in wealthier countries, we know relatively little about how these disasters are experienced in such contexts. South Africa presents an especially telling example in which it is clear that natural events are affected profoundly by sociopolitical factors, including the spatial design of the apartheid city. We report here on interviews with twenty survivors of the biggest shanty town fire in the history of Cape Town, South Africa. The narratives of participants demonstrate that in order to understand the human cost of such disasters it is as important to understand the politics of the precursors of the disaster as well as what occurred subsequent to the disaster. The South African case, like that of Hurricane Katrina, underscores the fact that disaster, far from being an acute event which happens to individuals, is better understood as part of a far longer sociopolitical process affecting individuals, groups, and, indeed, societies. © 2012 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.

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