20 years in post-apartheid re-development, the spaces that make up what that are collectively known as Joburg CBD or downtown Jozi are still seen by millions of non-inner city dwellers as a collective no-go zone.
The inner city is seen as dangerous, unsafe and crime-ridden; the stigma being fuelled by northern suburb dinner table horror stories of smash and grabs, tales of slum lord occupied buildings, as seen in the popular South African movie Jerusalema and countless mythicized notions of who actually ‘runs’ the spaces beyond south of the train tracks. The spatial truth reveals a different story; one of over 250 000 residents from multiple national, cultural and economic backgrounds converging with a daily influx of over 1 million commuters in one of the most diverse and dynamic densities on the continent.
While there are a significant number of buildings that are ‘informally’ or illegally occupied, the inhabitants of these structures are often the under deserved victims of blame for the inner-city’s dangerous stigma. In reality these residents are often the most marginalised by both inner city crime and hard-line policing; with most paying rentals in excess, per square metre, of areas such as Sandton City’s diamond walk for radically underserviced and dangerous access to housing.
When legal structures intervene, it is often this sector of the city’s populace who face the hardest end of the law enforcement; resident’s assets are seized, woman and children are physically and verbally abused and all are shipped off to undesirable and poorly located areas at the city limits. In this process, meagre assets are seized and illegally confiscated, including irreplaceable and important documents.
Meanwhile, residents often return to the city weeks later, only to occupy similar spaces and continue the cycle while those who orchestrate the control of the buildings, both legally and illegally, benefit greatly in this ebb and flow of building occupation.
The buildings, and other similar ‘informal’ spaces are not simple mono-programmatic spaces for criminal activities – but a highly complex and adaptive socio-spatial system that provide important access to those on the margins of South Africa’s socio-economic system. These are not systems that need to be wholly eradicated, but should better understood and learnt from for city-makers to build off.
This project seeks to expose the intricate socio-spatial relationship that make up the people and systems occupying these structures in order to inform policy makers, city officials, developers and city-goers to the true nature of these spatial-ecosystems. This is imperative to understand to affect policy that deals with eviction and housing to address these complex social needs for dwelling in downtown jozi.