Erin Marie Torkelson

Grant Type

Hunt Postdoctoral Fellowship

Institutional Affiliation

Western Cape, U. of the

Grant number

Gr. 10063

Approve Date

October 2, 2020

Project Title

Torkelson, Erin (Western Cape, U. of the) "Bantustan Banking: Race, Debt and Welfare in South Africa"

Cash transfer programs are significant, world-making responses to global poverty, made all the more necessary in the time of Covid-19. There has been surprising consensus – among Silicon Valley techies, World Bank bureaucrats, and lefty academics – that cash transfers can right the wrongs of top-heavy and inappropriate development interventions by “just giving money to the poor.” Cash transfers are assumed to be the simple, value-neutral distribution of money from governments to citizens via digital financial technologies. Through an ethnography of South Africa’s grant system, I demonstrate how cash transfers are not value-neutral at all, but encode enduring structures of racial capitalism. My book, “Bantustan Banking: Debt, Race and Welfare in South Africa,” shows how cash transfers conscripted Black women – who make up 85% of all recipients – into regimes of debt at the very site of social welfare provision. Drawing upon three years of fieldwork with grantees – waiting at paypoints, deciphering receipts, shopping for essentials, and visiting payday lenders – I argue that South Africa’s cash transfer program became a financialized mechanism to adjudicate the deserving and undeserving poor.