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"

ERIN TORKELSON, University of West Cape, Cape Town, South Africa, was awarded a Hunt Postdoctoral Fellowship in October 2020 to aid research and writing on “Bantustan Banking: Race, Debt and Welfare in South Africa.” The resulting manuscript considers how cash transfer programs have emerged as world-making responses to global poverty. There has been surprising consensus – among Silicon Valley techies, World Bank bureaucrats, and left academics – that cash transfers can right the wrongs of inappropriate development interventions by just giving money to the poor. Cash transfers are assumed to be simple, value-neutral tranches of money distributed from governments to citizens through digital financial technologies. However, the research argues that South Africa’s cash transfers are not value-neutral at all but encode structures of racial capitalism. Between 2012 and 2018, South Africa conscripted Black women – who make up 85% of all recipients – into regimes of debt at the site of social welfare provision. Drawing upon three years of ethnographic work, this writing shows how the perception of Black women as risky financial subjects justified their forced removal into a separate digital financial space subject to indirect rule by a private corporation outside the protection of state financial authorities.  


Torkelson, Erin. 2020. Collateral Damages: Cash Transfer and Debt Transfer in South Africa. World Development 126. Published online.  Torkelson, Erin. 2020. Sophia’s Choice: Debt, Social Welfare, and Racial Finance Capitalism. EPD: Society and Space 0 (0) 1-18.