‘Now I stay in a house’: Renovating the matchbox in apartheid-era Soweto

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Most Sowetans continued to invest substantial amounts of energy and money in their ‘matchbox’ houses even after the state restricted their rights of tenure in the 1960s. Their alterations were often not apparent - for example, plastering walls and installing interior doors - but they carried heavy significance for the families involved in such activities. Upgrading related on many levels to the worries and aspirations of working-class adults regarding their tenuous positions as urban Africans and particularly to their efforts to gain and preserve respectability in the township. The stories people tell about their houses, as well as the actual material forms that home improvements took, suggest that respectability rested less on conspicuous display of taste and wealth than on the application of traditional African understandings. Upgrading offered Sowetans a way of quietly setting down roots and establishing, to others and to themselves, their places as urban South Africans.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)127-139
Number of pages13
JournalInternational Journal of Phytoremediation
Issue number2
StatePublished - 1996
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Environmental Chemistry
  • Pollution
  • Plant Science


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