Gender, Citizenship and Power The Westcliff Flats Residents Association
The post-apartheid period has witnessed a mushrooming of activity by civic organizations in South Africa. This paper focuses on a group of women in Westcliff, Chatsworth, who have been persevering against difficult odds over the past two decades. Most lost their formal jobs in the Clothing and Textile sectors during the 1990s and have been surviving through a series of low paying casual jobs and state welfare assistance. They formed the Westcliff Flats Residents Association (WFRA) to take up issues such as evictions for non-payment of rent and poor service delivery. The WRFA allowed members to mobilize their individual grievances into a collective one and initially direct this against the local state. The growth of such organizations can be seen as affirmation of a growing sense of citizenship. Members have developed a clear sense of the injustices perpetrated by the state, of their rights as citizens, of the possibilities of engaging in this kind of political space in addition to pursuing constitutional litigation, and of the potential of working with fellow citizens in pursuit of common ends. Notwithstanding this, the lives of few women have improved materially and attempts to forge alliances with other organizations with similar grievances met with limited success. A decade ago there was great optimism that social movements, through a combination of petitions, protest, and litigation, will bring about real changes to the status quo. While this may be up for debate, the WFRA, does, however, play a vital role in the lives of women in the community by providing information, emotional succor, advice, work, and even financial support at times.