Standing (K)in: Street Youth and Street Relatedness in South Africa



In this article I examine the social attachments of youth living on the streets of Durban, South Africa. I investigate their interactions with one another as friends, kin, and conjugal lovers. As such, I draw attention to the variability and creativity of youth fellowships in the city. My analysis derives from the ethnographic case of Point Place, a condemned apartment complex located in the city center of Durban. Up to a hundred street youth reside here, males and females between the ages of 14 to 29 years. From their narratives of daily survival, I highlight the possible commensalities of the streets. I show how street youth, as articulated in isiZulu, “stand for each other” (ukumelana), not necessarily in violent or coercive formations but in supportive and cooperative companionships. I show how state officials, too, recognize the resourcefulness of these intra-generational relations. For they allow the Point Place youth “to stand” (ukuma) not only as friends but also as kin, particularly in times of difficulty and distress. With this case study I highlight the critical linkages of belonging on the streets, framed by institutional forces yet also by the interpersonal subjectivities of youth who imaginatively negotiate their relatedness to one another and in the process, their standing in South African society.