From slum city to ur­ban liv­ing hub:

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He rubs his sleepy eyes with his hands as he sits up on one of the two dou­ble beds in the sin­gle room he shares with his brother in a high-rise build­ing in Berea near the Jo­han­nes­burg city cen­tre.

It is just before mid­day on a week­day. Mu­sawenkosi Zulu has been sleep­ing af­ter a gru­elling night shift at a restau­rant where he was hired three months ago. This is his first job since he mi­grated to Jo­han­nes­burg from KwaZulu-Natal in 2013.

Home is not nec­es­sar­ily a glit­ter­ing cas­tle. It is a cramped room on the first floor of an old, run­down build­ing that was re­cently the sub­ject of a pro­tracted court case. But it is home, nev­er­the­less: an abode near the city, near work and other ameni­ties such as stores and recre­ational fa­cil­i­ties.

Zulu, who mi­grated to Jo­han­nes­burg from Mfon­gosi in Nkandla, KwaZulu-Natal, loves the con­ve­nience that comes with liv­ing near the city. It takes him just one taxi ride to get to his work­place in East­gate.

If he lived in one of the far-flung town­ships that are a legacy of apartheid’s no­to­ri­ous Group Ar­eas Act, which led to the ejec­tion of black peo­ple from the city to far­away lo­ca­tions with dys­func­tional pub­lic trans­port, he would prob­a­bly have to spend more time and money to get to work.

It is es­ti­mated that, on av­er­age, 10000 peo­ple from across the coun­try and be­yond its bor­ders mi­grate to Jo­han­nes­burg every month.

All roads lead to the roar­ing big city, just as they have since the 1886 gold rush that gave birth to this bustling me­trop­o­lis.

Whereas in years past the Jo’burg in­ner city was mainly a place where peo­ple came to work dur­ing the day before re­tir­ing to homes in far-flung town­ships, sub­urbs or in­for­mal set­tle­ments in the evenings, it is now in­creas­ingly be­com­ing a place in which peo­ple sleep and set up homes.

As a re­sult, the al­ready con­gested city has now be­come a new bat­tle­ground for space, for a place to live while push­ing the hus­tle in the ’burg.

Jo­han­nes­burg prop­erty agent Max Katz has been work­ing in the in­ner city for the past 15 years. Through his com­pany Syn­prop, Katz searches for and iden­ti­fies build­ings that have the potential to be con­verted into low­cost res­i­den­tial units.

He is an ac­tive player in the gen­tri­fi­ca­tion of the in­ner city that has turned com­mer­cial build­ings, old of­fice blocks, ware­houses, garages and derelict res­i­den­tial blocks be­ing res­cued from near-col­lapse and con­verted into trendy, mod­ern liv­ing spa­ces.

Katz reck­ons it will never be pos­si­ble, at least not in the near fu­ture, to cre­ate suf­fi­cient ac­com­mo­da­tion to cater for the thou­sands of peo­ple who pour into the city every month.

“We will never, ever, ever. Not in your life­time, not in my life­time,” says Katz.

The mi­gra­tion into the city is not only an is­sue con­fronting the City of Gold, it is also a challenge faced by cities glob­ally and ex­perts say it is likely to ac­cel­er­ate in the next decade as peo­ple aban­don ru­ral ar­eas for the bright lights and the lure of bet­ter op­por­tu­ni­ties they be­lieve ex­ist in the city.

United Na­tions agency Unesco pre­dicts in its Global Trends To­wards Ur­ban­i­sa­tion re­port that, by 2030, nearly five bil­lion (or 61%) of the world’s peo­ple will live in cities.

Unesco says the move­ment of peo­ple to­wards cities has ac­cel­er­ated and the world’s ur­ban pop­u­la­tion is now grow­ing by 60-mil­lion peo­ple a year.

Jo­han­nes­burg, given its legacy as a racially seg­re­gated city de­signed for com­mer­cial and not res­i­den­tial pur­poses, faces par­tic­u­lar chal­lenges.

As thou­sands of black peo­ple poured into the city af­ter the 1994 po­lit­i­cal set­tle­ment, Jo­han­nes­burg’s white-owned busi­nesses and land­lords, over­whelmed by the un­ex­pected in­flux of peo­ple who for decades were not al­lowed to live in the city, took flight.

In some cases, land­lords left build­ings un­man­aged, leav­ing ten­ants con­fused and vul­ner­a­ble to or­gan­ised gangs of build­ing hi­jack­ers. In time, much of the city de­te­ri­o­rated into a dis­gust­ing slum of crum­bling, un­ser­viced build­ings and crime-rid­den streets.

But the gen­tri­fi­ca­tion of the in­ner city is slowly putting the shine back into this his­toric me­trop­o­lis. Build­ings like One Eloff, which was once a ware­house for high-end cars in what was tra­di­tion­ally the city’s mo­tor­ing hub, is now a trendy res­i­den­tial and busi­ness hub.

The ground floor serves as busi­ness space, with small re­tail shops, cof­fee shops, art work­shops and a restau­rant. The top floor, where once en­gines roared and tyres screeched, has now been trans­formed into bach­e­lor and two-bed­roomed units.

The voices of mo­tor me­chan­ics shout­ing out in­struc­tions have been re­placed by the chat­ter of res­i­dents and mu­sic play­ing softly from their rooms. Else­where, what used to be govern­ment depart­ment of­fices, such as those at the cor­ner of Eloff and Com­mis­sioner streets, are to be de­vel­oped into 400 res­i­den­tial units, to be com­pleted by 2019.

A build­ing that once housed the of­fices of re­tail gi­ant OK Bazaars, also in Eloff Street, which in decades gone by was Jozi’s com­mer­cial cap­i­tal, has been sold and will also be trans­formed into res­i­den­tial units.

“Big busi­ness in the in­ner city is res­i­den­tial [units], not com­mer­cial,” says Katz.

Bach­e­lor and two-bed­roomed flats are go­ing for monthly rental rates of be­tween R3 500 and R5 000. De­vel­op­ers have put in strin­gent mea­sures such as bio­met­ric ac­cess con­trol sys­tems to man­age the num­ber of peo­ple liv­ing in the build­ings. They have also in­stalled pre­paid me­ters to reg­u­late the use of elec­tric­ity and wa­ter.

The scars of old Jo’burg still pre­vail, though. An ex­am­ple is the derelict 44 Nugget Street build­ing, an eye­sore whose win­dows are shut­tered with card­board boxes. It stands next to a newly de­vel­oped and beau­ti­fully painted build­ing, Di­a­mond Place, whose own­ers have had to change the en­trance to move it away from 44 Nugget.

“Derelict build­ings — to have peo­ple liv­ing in a build­ing with­out toi­lets, lights, wa­ter — it’s a crime,” says Katz.

The Gaut­eng depart­ment of in­fra­struc­ture de­vel­op­ment is also driv­ing the in­ner city’s re­ju­ve­na­tion with the Precinct Pro­ject.

The pro­ject aims to turn ex­ist­ing govern­ment-owned mul­ti­storey build­ings into one-stop hubs where peo­ple can ac­cess health­care, govern­ment ad­min­is­tra­tive ser­vices, in­sur­ance, bank­ing, school­ing and pub­lic trans­port in rea­son­able prox­im­ity.

The province has also set aside R8-bil­lion for the Kopanong Gaut­eng Govern­ment Precinct pro­ject, in which 21 build­ings in the Jo­han­nes­burg city cen­tre will be re­ha­bil­i­tated and de­vel­oped over a three- to five-year pe­riod.

Many of the city’s newly re­vamped, pri­vately owned build­ings mir­ror One Eloff, of­fer­ing shop­ping, busi­ness and re­tail space on the ground floor with the up­per floors serv­ing

“Der­il­ict build­ings — to have peo­ple liv­ing in a build­ing with­out toi­lets, lights, wa­ter

— it’s a crime”

Vi­sion­ary: Prop­erty de­vel­oper Max Katz has been work­ing hard to iden­tify derelict build­ings that can be con­verted into low-cost res­i­den­tial units to ad­dress the city’s dire hous­ing needs. Pho­tos: Del­wyn Verasamy

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