Racialization and Racism

Liberating the family: Debt, education and racial capitalism in South Africa

This article provides an analysis of South Africa’s #FeesMustFall protests focusing on young people’s concerns around debt, family obligations and social mobility. While the protests have popularly been understood as a generational revolt, there has been insufficient attention paid to the role of debt in young people’s lives and how this affects aspirations towards collective social mobility. Drawing on ethnographic fieldwork with students from a black working-class township, this article suggests that education reconfigures kinship bonds, generating expectations to support family members by paying a so-called ‘black tax’. Drawing on the concept of ‘debt ecologies’, I highlight how debt articulates with other forms of social inequality, racialized poverty in particular, and can also act as a source of politicization. Finally, I call for greater attention to the role of debt in young people’s lives and how it impacts their economic agency, their role in care and familial networks and ability to imagine the future.

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Volume 39 Issue 1

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