Between 2009 and 2014, South Africa experienced widespread protests. In contrast to prominent examples of global protest during the same period, they were localized and did not push for broad political and economic transformation. To explain these features, this article draws from three ethnographic and interview-based case studies of local protest and organizing within informal settlements in and around Johannesburg. The author argues that urban poverty and the experience of market insecurity, on the one hand, and democratization and the experience of state betrayal, on the other hand, gave rise to specific political orientations. Residents responded to market insecurity by demanding collective consumption for place-based communities, and they responded to state betrayal by demanding fulfillment of a national liberation social contract through administrative fixes. Both strategies confined activism to the local level and limited broader challenges. The findings have implications for research on both the urban poor and social movements.