- Posted December 12, 2013 by
Johannesburg, South Africa
This iReport is part of an assignment:
Johannesburg: South Africa’s powerhouse
A walk in Hillbrow, Johannesburg
A few months ago I went on a Saturday morning walk in one of Jo'burg's most infamous neighbourhoods- Hillbrow. The idea of going for a walk in Hillbrow was met with bewildered faces- the Hillbrow that they once resided in was no longer a cosmopolitan meeting point of the Jo'burg liberals, it was a drug infested, crime-ridden suburb that most people would rather bypass.
Anyway on this walk- no one tried to sell me any sort of narcotics and I didn't feel unsafe despite carrying around my hefty camera- so I came out unscathed.
It's an African city- not an African city that's been disguised under shopping complexes, parking lots and cars. People live and walk Hillbrow. Everyone's an entrepreneur- whether it be a a car cleaning business, a land line phone stall or a vegetable shop- everyone's busy trying to make something for themselves. Most of these entrepreneurs are informal traders and I wonder what will happen to them after the 'clean up.' The 'clean up' involved, moving informal street traders off the certain streets. 'Clean streets' is an unlikley scene in any developing country of emerging market, and instead they're the epitome of a bustling streets with an array of vendors. One can't help but wonder what this means for innovation.
One of the most interesting points was an advertising wall that masses of people gravitated towards to sell goods, find a room mate or even a life partner. Its a community that doesn't operate on smart phones and google, but there's certainly a system that works.
One of the most iconic buildings in Hilbrow is Ponte- most easily noticed by the loud 'Vodacom' sign lighting up the Jo'burg skyline. The building has an interesting history fluctuating through the good and bad times- mirroring the what was happening in the streets of Hillbrow through time. Recently revamped, a new crowd of urban youngsters have moved into the pentouse apartments with a marvellous view of the city. Two of them have started a children's centre called 'Dlala Nje'- the aim of this was to keep kids off the street and stimulated by creativity.
This is a small initiative that's likely to impact a number of young people. The South African middle class needs to reintegrate themselves back into this community and assist in the upliftment it requires. South Africa is infamous for its high levels of inequality and in order to combat this, youth in communities such as Hillbrow need to be taken care of and motivated to remain in the education system.
Hillbrow is just one of a number of other South African and even African urban centres where the stigma's need to change. We need to open ourselves up to the vibrant informal sector, entrepreneurship and soul in these urban spaces.