How Jo’burg got its groove back

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as res­i­den­tial units. Con­sid­er­ing the lack of open spa­ces for re­cre­ation in the city, some de­vel­op­ers are turn­ing once-drab rooftops into play­grounds and spa­ces for re­cre­ation.

At Pro­gres­sive Pri­mary School in Mooi Street, the lit­tle ones study in class­rooms con­verted from a car re­pair work­shop. They spend their break time play­ing on ar­ti­fi­cial grass on the rooftop.

Katz says the scram­ble for build­ings in the in­ner city has led to de­vel­op­ers mov­ing east, to tra­di­tion­ally in­dus­trial ar­eas such as Jeppestown. There, work­shops and ware­houses are fast be­ing bought up and trans­formed into res­i­den­tial units.

Al­though it is clearly yield­ing pos­i­tive re­sults for the city, gen­tri­fi­ca­tion has also put the au­thor­i­ties, de­vel­op­ers and prop­erty own­ers on a col­li­sion course with oc­cu­pants of some of the old build­ings, many of whom are low-in­come earn­ers, job seek­ers or own­ers of small busi­nesses who live from hand to mouth and can­not af­ford the rentals at the newly re­fur­bished build­ings.

In May, the South Gaut­eng High Court up­held an ap­peal by res­i­dents of In­gelosi House in O’Reilly Street, Berea, where Mu­sawenkosi Zulu re­sides, to halt their evic­tion from the build­ing.

The own­ers of the block bought it in 2011, hop­ing to turn it into of­fices for their pre­paid me­ter busi­ness. Some of the ten­ants had lived in the build­ing for 10 years. This is but one of many sim­i­lar cases brought before the courts.

An ear­lier Con­sti­tu­tional Court rul­ing com­pels de­vel­op­ers and the City of Jo­han­nes­burg to pro­vide al­ter­na­tive ac­com­mo­da­tion for ten­ants evicted from build­ings. This has forced the city to de­velop a tem­po­rary emer­gency ac­com­mo­da­tion strat­egy.

“We can’t af­ford high rents. Many peo­ple are un­em­ployed. They sur­vive on piece jobs,” says Mkhu­l­uli Dlamini, who lives in a house with 34 oth­ers in Berea. The prop­erty in Prim­rose Street has had its fair share of takeover at­tempts by build­ing hi­jack­ers.

Dlamini, who is a mem­ber of the In­ner City Fo­rum, an or­gan­i­sa­tion that fights for the rights of in­ner-city dwellers, has lived on the prop­erty since 1996. The house in Prim­rose Street has been par­ti­tioned into 12 smaller rooms. But in June, part of it was de­stroyed in a fire be­lieved to have been caused by a faulty stove. The house is sand­wiched be­tween high-rise build­ings. The ten­ants pay the coun­cil for ser­vices but have no knowl­edge of the where­abouts of the orig­i­nal owner.

“We love liv­ing here. It’s next to town, work and schools. We are not crim­i­nals. We are just peo­ple who want to live a nor­mal life,” Dlamini says.

As some strug­gle to adapt to chang­ing times, young en­trepreneurs like Nom­fundo Malinga, orig­i­nally from Lady­smith in KwaZulu-Natal, are find­ing the changes to the in­ner city ben­e­fi­cial to their busi­ness prospects.

Malinga runs the 13th Floor Gallery at 95 Com­mis­sioner Street. She moved to her cur­rent lo­ca­tion from the buzzing artis­tic hub of Mabo­neng.

Her busi­ness is lo­cated near a ter­mi­nus for the Rea Vaya bus sys­tem. Malinga be­lieves that it is a mis­con­cep­tion that the in­ner city is a dan­ger­ous hell­hole. She ar­gues that, just like in any other part of the city, there are also no­to­ri­ous hotspots in the Jo­han­nes­burg city cen­tre.

“It’s con­ve­nient,” says Malinga, re­fer­ring to the benefits of liv­ing and work­ing in the in­ner city. “In my case, I live in the city and work in the city. Home is three blocks away. You cut down on trans­port [costs].”

Yet she be­lieves that, al­though liv­ing in the city has its benefits, there are also down­sides — such as the cramped and claus­tro­pho­bic con­di­tions, es­pe­cially if you live with chil­dren.

“The only un­for­tu­nate part is that some of the build­ings we oc­cupy have re­stricted space. It’s a tran­sit space. You can’t set­tle with fam­ily in the CBD. Why make it so com­pact? Where do you play with the kids? Some [flats] are lucky to have rooftop gar­dens. But what about those who don’t?”

Malinga says she no­tices her chil­dren’s hunger for open spa­ces when they visit friends in the sub­urbs. “They enjoy the gar­den spa­ces so much,” she says.

She also thinks that the au­thor­i­ties should work on im­prov­ing safety in in­ner-city parks, many of which are pop­u­lated by home­less peo­ple, va­grants and drug ped­dlers.

Her next-door neigh­bour, Con­golese na­tional Ben Kadiya, runs The Gen­tle­man, a groom­ing sa­lon in Com­mis­sioner Street. He has been in this space since 2013. Before mov­ing to Jo­han­nes­burg, he worked in a Cape Town restau­rant. A qual­i­fied teacher, he opened his first bar­ber­shop in New­town.

Crime, how­ever, is a re­al­ity that con­tin­ues to haunt the in­ner city. When he was in New­town, Kadiya lost count of the num­ber of times he was robbed with knives and at gun­point.

Three weeks ago, on a Sun­day, bur­glars broke into his shop and made off with equip­ment val­ued at more than R6000. But he is op­ti­mistic about the in­ner city and has seen his busi­ness grow steadily in the past two years.

Bheki Dube runs Cu­ri­oc­ity Back­pack­ers and Main­street­walks in Mabo­neng. He is a man of the city and be­lieves it has great prospects of de­vel­op­ing into a live­able place. Dube grew up in Troyeville and has never thought of aban­don­ing the city.

“When the land sub­ject comes up, I think of prop­erty,” says Dube.

He be­lieves that, al­though peo­ple tend to think of un­touched spa­ces in the broader con­text of land own­er­ship, in the con­text of the city “it is al­ways bal­anced, look­ing at it from a prop­erty [per­spec­tive]”.

His walk­ing tours fo­cus on Jozi’s hid­den trea­sures. He has also taken ad­van­tage of the in­ter­est in the city as a tourist des­ti­na­tion to ven­ture into the hos­pi­tal­ity busi­ness with his back­pack­ers, a vi­brant spot fre­quented by an equally ef­fer­ves­cent and di­verse clien­tele from across the world.

Katz be­lieves that the cre­ation of spa­ces for young en­trepreneurs in the in­ner city has led to “an ex­plo­sion of new ideas”.

Dube be­lieves that the gen­tri­fi­ca­tion of the in­ner city has the potential to turn the area into an “in­te­grated ecosys­tem where peo­ple can live, work and play in an ur­ban land­scape”.

The city clearly holds great promise for young en­trepreneurs like Dube, whose in­no­va­tive ideas tie in with the de­mands of those who have no af­ford­abil­ity is­sues.

But for those who sur­vive on the mar­gins of the econ­omy, like Mthandazo Mbambo, a vegetable ven­dor who lives with her fam­ily of six in a one-roomed apart­ment in Yeoville, the changes to the land­scape of the in­ner city may not hold such plea­sures.

Mbambo first lived in a one-bed­roomed flat in Berea with her four chil­dren and her hus­band af­ter re­lo­cat­ing from Zim­babwe in 2006. The fam­ily strug­gled to af­ford the R3100 monthly rental. She then moved to Yeoville, where the fam­ily moved into a sin­gle room at a rental of R600 a month.

View Court, where Mbambo lives, was at the cen­tre of a dis­pute be­tween res­i­dents and four dif­fer­ent men who tried to hi­jack the build­ing af­ter its orig­i­nal owner dis­ap­peared. At the mo­ment, res­i­dents are liv­ing there by virtue of a court or­der that halted a de­vel­oper’s at­tempts to have them evicted.

As de­vel­op­ers eye the neigh­bour­ing sub­urbs to spread the ur­ban re­ju­ve­na­tion pro­ject, res­i­dents like Dlamini live in fear and un­cer­tainty of the fu­ture. For now, they hope that the chang­ing times will not spell the end of their days in the in­ner city. And they are not pre­pared to sub­mit with­out a fight.

“We will never al­low rent in­creases. We have no money [and] there are no jobs,” ar­gues Dlamini. — Muku­rukuru Me­dia

“We love liv­ing here. We are not crim­i­nals. We are just peo­ple who want to live a nor­mal life”

Play­ground: Pupils of the Pro­gres­sive Pri­mary School in Mooi Street play and study in an area that was once a car re­pair work­shop now con­verted into a hab­it­able place of joy for them. Pho­tos: Del­wyn Verasamy

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