achille mbembe, nsizwa dlamini, and grace khunou
Over the past few decades, historians, geographers, sociologists, urban develop-
ment specialists, and political scientists have produced numerous and sophis-
ticated studies of this speciﬁcally Southern African social and urban formation
called “the township.” Most of these studies have dealt with the hypervisible
issues of poverty and dispossession, chronic hunger and malnutrition, and ex-
propriation and disenfranchisement in the context of state-sponsored racial
violence. Other studies have examined in detail the conditions of social repro-
duction and political mobilization in the township.
Yet almost fourteen years after the end of apartheid, we have very few postlib-
eration ethnographies of everyday life in the township. We have even fewer aca-
demic or theoretical reflections on its place in the city, its rhythms and senses.
That the township both is and is not urban, that it is proximate to the city
while at its margins, and that city and township were inextricably linked under
apartheid—all these points are incontestable. So is the fact that the township
still suffers from a lack of basic amenities, even as it exhibits the extremes of
poverty and wealth characteristic of the city. Nevertheless, we are left with a
negative deﬁnition of this highly syncretic urban formation that is integral to
city life in South Africa and deeply embedded in the nation’s social imaginary
and political unconscious.
The objective of the following conversation with two young black South Afri-
cans is to open a small window onto postliberation township life and experience.
The questions put to Grace Khunou and Nsizwa Dlamini, then both doctoral