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Street Life Under a Roof takes us to a place few people know exists: a self-run shelter for homeless young people in Durban

‘An exemplary ethnography of post-apartheid life. Margaretten takes us to a place that few people know even exists: a self-run shelter for homeless young people in Durban. What emerges is a searing portrait of drugs, violence, and AIDS but also of compassion, love, loyalty, and humanity.’ – Mark Hunter, author Love in the Times of AIDS: Inequality, Gender, and Rights in South Africa

Point Place stands near the city centre of Durban, South Africa. Condemned and off the grid, the five-storey apartment building is nonetheless home to a hundred-plus teenagers and young adults marginalised by poverty and chronic unemployment. Emily Margaretten draws on ten years of up-close fieldwork to explore the distinct cultural universe of the Point Place community.

Her sensitive investigations reveal how young men and women draw on customary notions of respect and support to forge an ethos of connection and care that allows them to live far richer lives than ordinarily assumed. Her discussion of gender dynamics highlights terms like nakana – to care about or take notice of another – that young women and men use to construct ‘outside’ and ‘inside’ boyfriends and girlfriends and to communicate notions of trust.
Challenging the idea that Point Place’s residents need ‘rehabilitation’, Margaretten argues that these young men and women want love, secure homes and the means to provide for their dependents – in short, the same hopes and aspirations mirrored across South African society.

Emily Margaretten is an assistant professor of anthropology at Ripon College.

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