De facto vs. de jure Home Ownership: Women’s Everyday Negotiations in Lusaka and Cape Town

De facto vs. de jure Home Ownership

Sophie Oldfield, Sian Butcher | Feminist Africa, 2013

Across the Southern African region, low-income housing policies almost exclusively prioritise an “ownership model”, which sees progress and development as intrinsically bound up in the production of individual, legally-sanctioned, supposedly secure and economically empowered, property owners (Blomley, 2004: xiv). Evident in its almost uniform inclusion in national housing policies and practice in many states, including Zambia (Schylter, 1998) and South Africa (Pillay, 2008), an ownership model discursively normalizes this form of tenure (Gurney, 1999). Yet, in contrast to individualised, disembodied, legalistic notions of ownership, we argue that comparative explorations of women’s everyday access to homes in two working class neighbourhoods – one in Lusaka and one in Cape Town – demonstrate that ownership is an ambiguous and contested terrain, one that is deeply gendered and relationally negotiated.

Despite very different policy and governance contexts in Lusaka and Cape Town, legal home ownership is only one of a host of factors that shape experiences, senses of security and insecurity, and perceptions and practices of home ‘ownership’. Claims to homes are asserted instead, through everyday practices, reflected in household dynamics and family sanction, as well as interactions with the state. Shaped by housing histories and memories of these experiences, access to and maintenance of homes reflect everyday economic struggles, and the negotiation of the day-to-day tasks of making ends meet.

These multi-faceted negotiations complicate any simple reading of home ownership in impoverished neighbourhoods in Southern Africa. Deceptively clear binaries that separate owners and non-owners become blurred, challenging arguments that suggest that legal ownership is a straightforward policy and political empowerment, and exclusion from ownership its polar opposite. The following section contextualises these debates in the literature on home ownership and tenure security. The paper then turns to a rich contextual and comparative reading of the de facto practices of home ownership evident in women’s everyday negotiations in Matero, Lusaka and Valhalla Park, Cape Town.

Cover artwork for Feminist Africa, Issue 13 © Tariro Karise: Proud of Myself