How Jo’burg got its groove back
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