Johannesburg is South Africa’s largest city, with a population of about 3.2 million people at the centre of Guateng, one of Africa’s most rapidly urbanising regions. The city is relatively dispersed and has a poor public transport system. Attempts to dismantle the social and spatial legacy of apartheid are underway, but elements of an unjust geography are resurfacing. Unregulated settlement and increased crime have driven jobs and people out to the suburbs, creating a hole at the city’s heart around Hillbrow, now inhabited principally by immigrants from other African states.
The financial and corporate centre has moved from the modernist downtown core to the shapeless suburbs of Sandton and Rosebank. Within this area’s shopping centres, walled hotels, and businesses and residential complexes warded by security gates, cameras and guards, a range of social groups gather to conduct business and socialise.
Only three kilometres away, the former apartheid ghettoes of Alexandra and Soweto house hundreds of thousands in substandard conditions. Informal settlements with high levels of social disadvantage are growing along the city fringes, as new residents struggle to obtain other forms of shelter and face arduous journeys to work on informal public transport systems. But Soweto now has tarmacked streets and basic services, including schools and shopping malls. And since 1994, the new South African government has planned almost two million lowcost homes under the Reconstruction and Development Programme.