Making Informal Settlements ‘Visible’ Through Datafication: A Case Study of Quarry Road West Informal Settlement, Durban, South Africa

Catherine Sutherland, Bahle Mazeka, Sibongile Buthelezi, Duduzile Khumalo and Patrick Martel


Can datafication increase the ‘visibility’ of informal settlements in South Africa, in the context of a national and local state that holds both progressive and repressive approaches towards informal settlements? This case study explores a datafication process that has been in place for five years in an informal settlement in Durban, which has been established through an inclusionary, participatory data collection and production process.

It examines how and when the data moves in the information value chain, and the implications this movement has for achieving rights-based, instrumental, structural and distributive justice. It argues that procedural and rights-based justice can be achieved to a certain extent through the construction of an inclusionary datafication process. However, instrumental, structural and distributive justice is dependent on how the interventionist and developmental state of South Africa engages with the data, and whether it takes it up in a meaningful way, thus enabling it to lead to fundamental shifts in discourses, approaches and practices towards informality.

The results reveal that the ‘governance and knowledge platforms’ that are built through the datafication process are more important and powerful at first, than the actual data itself. However, informal settlers and other data intermediaries, who have learnt how to engage data to secure the ‘right of informal settlers to the city’, have begun to use the data in interesting ways, acting as champions, and re-shaping citizens’ relations with the state. While this does not secure tangible changes in informal settlements, it begins to shift discourses and power relations, which is critical to informal settlement upgrading.

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