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South Africa of contrasts, inequalities and big hopes

Johannesburg city centre housing

 

South Africa’s spiritual leader Desmond Tutu called the country “the rainbow nation”. And it is one of the most vibrant, multicultural environments I’ve seen.

It also has a wealth diversity when in comes to population, cultural heritage and landscape. One of the most eye-catching contrasts I noticed when travelling around SA is reflected in the type and size of a house people live in.

From squatter camps and tiny square, concrete ‘boxes’ which resemble the first house I was able to draw as a child, through traditional, thatched beehive huts to majestic mansions, spoiled with splendour and power and loaded with various protection systems.

As captured through the camera lens…

Squatter camp outside Johannesburg

Squatter camp outside Johannesburg

It’s very hard to get the recent data or any data related to the number of people living in squatter camps in SA today. 2011 General Household Survey found that about 1.1-million South African households of all races lived in informal settlements or what were described as “shacks not in a backyard”. A further 672,000 lived in shacks in the backyards of existing houses.

Just over 1.6-million households living in these “informal dwellings” were defined as “black African”. According to the survey, only about 98,000 Asian, coloured and white households lived in “informal dwellings” of any kind.

Tsolwana houses

Tsolwana social houses

Since the 1994, the state has built 1,4 million housing units, providing more than 5 million people with secure homes. This number could probably be much higher if not the corruption.

 

Transkei, Xhosa huts

Transkei, Xhosa huts

Xhosa hut

Xhosa hut

There are different types of these huts across South Africa, depending on the tribe who built them. I’ve found this cool architectural drawings by James Walton which explain the 3 different constructions: Xhosa, Sotho, Natal Nguni

Beehive Huts constructions by James Walton

Beehive Huts constructions by James Walton

On the road near Ermelo, SA

On the road near Ermelo, SA

Johannesburg city centre apartments

Johannesburg city centre apartments

Johannesburg, Bedfordview

Johannesburg, Bedfordview

Johannesburg, Bedfordview, entrance gate to a mansion

Johannesburg, Bedfordview, entrance gate to a mansion

Johannesburg, Bedfordview

Johannesburg, Bedfordview, Security guard in a bullet-proof booth outside the house gate

 

Johannesburg regeneration

There are small but noticeable changes happening to Johannesburg central districts and the city is becoming greatly appreciated for its urban vibe, trendy spots and a unique character. With districts like Mabodeng growing in popularity, Joburg is being called out as one of the best cities to visit in the world.

I enjoy seeing Mabodeng area expanding a little bit further each time I visit Joburg. You still can’t escape the impression of being stuck in a “box” and the lack of freedom of venturing into any street you’d like to explore. You are being warned of the potential danger so you better stay within the outlined box area.

Nevertheless, it’s great to see the district evolving with new bars, shops and restaurants opening, pushing its boundaries further and deeper.

Mabodeng is often quoted as a great example of urban regeneration. In the 1980’s the CBD of Johannesburg became a centre of violence and destruction and it turned into a “no-go” zone. This caused many people escaping to suburbs, leaving the central district empty.

In 2008 an entrepreneur Jonathan Liebmann started his regeneration project of the most abandoned part of CBD, Mabodeng Precinct. His idea was to turn the district into a creative hub and convert industrial warehouses into apartments, restaurants, bars, shops and art studios.

Maboneng, view from Arts on Main

Maboneng, view from Arts on Main

He believed, that bringing creativity and young people into the space would transform the area and give it a sense of community. He certainly succeeded in doing so but now there is only one question left – how sustainable all these changes are considering socio-economic, racial and governmental issues?

Meanwhile, people are enjoying the vibrant streets of art of Maboneng.

Maboneng street art

Maboneng street art

Maboneng residential building

Maboneng residential building

There are other parts of the city being restored and I discovered them thanks to and with Gerald Garner, who says, “The best way to explore and understand any place is by befriending a local.”

Gerald is an author of Joburg Places joburgplaces.com and he offers guided tours spiced up with amazing history lessons so if you ever visit the city I suggest to get in touch with him.

He mentioned an interesting thing about Joburg – how the city wanted to avoid the mistakes of other big metropolis, which created a strictly luxurious CBD, filled with expensive apartments and lifestyle.

Instead, the decision was to create as many as possible low cost apartments and encourage people with low income and students to move back to the centre. This removed one of the key obstacles in getting a job or education for the lower income part of the society, which is a regular commute. Most of those people have no cars and public transport in SA is very poor or non-existing, so being a walking distance from all that they need is crucial.

Johannesburg regeneration project

Johannesburg regeneration project

 

Moving back to the city meant there was life and energy around again. It created further opportunities to build communities and a number of small businesses around to serve the locals. All of that impacted the crime, especially the poverty driven crime and contributed to the city becoming a real home for thousands.

South Africa is still and will struggle for years to come with crime, corruption, and inequality and if you talk to the older generation there is a sense of resignation in their voice.

But speaking to a young lady from Soweto who runs a small fashion store in the town, I got a more positive feeling, based on hopes and forward thinking.

She thinks the older generation struggles to forget and move on and their support for the government or politicians are based on emotions and sentiments rather than objective facts and what’s best for the country. She recalled her auntie saying: “you can’t forget what they did!”.

She also told me that majority of young people want to look ahead and create opportunities for themselves and that’s what they want to focus on.

It’s great to see young people in South Africa taking what’s the best from their culture to create a future for themselves.

I love the lively colours and patterns of African fabrics being incorporated into modern fashion designs and embraced by the crowds on the streets. It makes the energy of the city vibrant and joyful. And what’s more important it gives an opportunity to many young designers to start up their own business with an inspiration of African tradition at the heart of it.

Johannesburg’s Fashion District is a revitalising area where the downtown designers have the opportunity to show off and sell their products. The district is a part a long-term economic growth project of the Johannesburg Developing Agency. There are still many empty spaces, waiting to be filled with creative souls and brands. But it has its own vibe and character and you can find some beautifully vibrant clothing and accessories to admire.

 

My personal purchases of fabrics and some ready to wear dresses:

South African Fabrics, Da Gama Textiles

South African Fabrics, Da Gama Textiles

Dresses made from various African fabrics

Dresses made from various African fabrics

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