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Informal Networks as Formal Barriers to Risk and Violence: Cases from Urban South Africa and Zimbabwe

Underprivileged communities are organised, albeit informally. Yet, the manner in which they are structured is unnoticed because of strict formal-informal categorisations. The research comparatively explores the nature of urban associations relied on by residents of Du Noon, Cape Town and Mbare, Harare to reduce vulnerability and provide physical security. Surveys and semi-structured interviews conducted among 200 residents in each Du Noon and Mbare between 2010 and 2013 are relied on. The various networks and the manner in which they emerge, evolve, are constituted and function are explored. Findings demonstrate that the underprivileged in these two sites have informally organised themselves around the state’s inadequacies by forming associations for their protection. These networks are devised around friendships, kinship, ethnicity, religious beliefs and other such attributes. In some cases, these associations transcend and disregard these attributes. Additionally, findings illustrate that the networks developing from social capital are in most cases instinctive and emerge as the need arises rather than being institutionalised and formal. However, these networks have their own rules which are also exclusionary to others. Networks are shaped by various factors such as the purpose of the group and the threat which each arrangement seeks to ward off at a particular time. The differences in rules of entry and types of initiatives seen in Du Noon and Mbare lie mainly in the diversity of ethnicities and nationalities in Du Noon which breed divisions that result in fragmented networks and closer-knit ties among those with similar backgrounds. The research demonstrates the factors that influence networks and the barriers which the underprivileged encounter while supplementing the inadequacies of the state in reducing crime and violence in these two settings.