"Skarrelling" : a socio-environmental history of household waste in South Africa

King, Giorgina F. J. (2014-04)

Thesis(MA)--Stellenbosch University, 2014.

Thesis

ENGLISH ABSTRACT: This study excavates a century’s worth of the history of household waste in South Africa, from 1890-1996. It shows that waste history is entangled with histories of disease and poor sanitation, advances in technology, the impact of war, environmental concerns and – perhaps above all – shifting socio-economic circumstances. Using a socio-environmental analytical framework, this analysis of waste history unearths empirical archival data and oral testimony, to contextualise themes of gender, race, class and nationalism in order to place rubbish within the wider historical debates in South Africa. This study uses Rubbish Theory and Broken Windows Theory as well as concepts of “Othering” and the “Sanitation Syndrome” to explore the role of waste in the construction of racial identities and perceptions. This thesis shows that Apartheid should not be seen as a watershed within this waste history, but rather as a continuation of colonial ideas of cleanliness that helped to perpetuate racist stereotypes. This study argues that the lack of waste services in “locations” during this time helped to contribute to the perception of the urban African as the unsanitary Other. The state and civic societies fostered gender roles, which (coupled with wartime nationalist propaganda) helped in shaping waste behaviour promoted by the National Anti-Waste Organisation (NAWO) during the Second World War (WWII). In the years after WWII, the threats of wartime shortages and enthusiastic solutions suggested to municipalities to “end the waste problem” were thwarted by the spread of the landfill as an even more convenient disposal method. The implementation of Apartheid, especially the Group Areas Act (No 41 of 1950) and the rise of consumer society, led to increasingly divergent experiences of waste for urban Africans and whites. The thesis uses a case study of the Devon Valley Landfill community outside of Stellenbosch. This ethnographic history explores notions of the “Subaltern” in order to give this history a human face. The diachronic analysis of this community offers a lens into ideas of “ordentlikheid” (decency), “weggooi mense” (throwaway people) and how these waste-pickers experience the environment in which they live.

AFRIKAANSE OPSOMMING: Hierdie studie grawe ’n eeu se geskiedenis van huishoudelike afval in Suid-Afrika op, van 1890-1996. Dit toon dat die geskiedenis van afval verweef is met geskiedenisse van siekte en swak sanitasie, tegnologiese vooruitgang, die impak van oorlog, omgewingskwessies en – dalk bowenal – veranderende sosio-ekonomiese omstandighede. Deur middel van ’n sosio-omgewings-analitiese raamwerk ontgin hierdie analise empiriese argiefdata en mondelingse getuienis om temas van geslag, ras, klas en nasionalisme te kontekstualiseer ten einde afval binne die breër historiese debatte in Suid-Afrika te plaas. Die studie gebruik Afval-teorie en Gebreekte Vensters-teorie sowel as begrippe van “Othering” en die “Sanitasie-sindroom” om die rol van afval in die totstandkoming van rasse-identiteite en -persepsies te ondersoek. Die tesis toon dat Apartheid nie as ’n waterskeiding in hierdie afval-geskiedenis gesien moet word nie, maar eerder as ’n voortsetting van koloniale idees oor higiëne wat gehelp het om rasse-stereotipes te perpetueer. Die studie argumenteer dat die gebrek aan afvalverwyderingsdienste in “lokasies” in die tyd bygedra het tot die persepsie van die stedelike Afrikaan as die onhigiëniese Ander. Die staat en burgerlike samelewings het geslagsrolle gekweek, wat (tesame met oorlogtydse nasionalistiese propaganda) gehelp het met die vestiging van afval-gedrag wat bevorder is deur die National Anti-Waste Organisation (NAWO) gedurende die Tweede Wêreldoorlog. In die jare na dié oorlog is die bedreigings van oorlogtydse tekorte en die entoesiastiese oplossings wat vir munisipaliteite aanbeveel is om die “afvalprobleem te beëindig”, gefnuik deur die toenemende gebruik van stortingsterreine as ’n selfs geriefliker afvalverwyderingsmetode. Die implementering van Apartheid, veral die Groepsgebiedewet (No. 41 van 1950) en die opkoms van die verbruikersamelewing, het gelei tot toenemend uiteenlopende ervarings van afval onder stedelike Afrikane en wit mense. Die tesis maak gebruik van ’n gevallestudie van die gemeenskap van die Devonvallei-stortingsterrein buite Stellenbosch. Hierdie etnografiese geskiedenis verken denkbeelde van die “Ondergeskikte” om ’n menslike gesig aan die geskiedenis te gee. Die diakroniese analise van die gemeenskap is ’n venster op idees van “ordentlikheid”, “weggooimense” en hoe hierdie afvalontginners die omgewing waarin hulle woon, beleef.

Please refer to this item in SUNScholar by using the following persistent URL: http://hdl.handle.net/10019.1/86689
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