Curiosity Issue 7

Page 1


Research . Rethink . Relearn




4 EDITORIAL Homegrown research crosses borders 5

Featured researchers


Places we once called home


Homes of the future

12 An eye on assistive tech at home 14 Home in the Arts 16 Owner or Roamer? 17 Feel at home at the office 18 This land is my land



Rodwin Malinga, 21, and Erik Prinz, 22, are fourth-year students at Wits completing Bachelor of Arts in Digital Art degrees, majoring in Game Design. Malinga and Prinz created this cover of Curios.ty, the Ekhaya issue, using Minecraft, a "sandbox" game. This refers to a video game system with defined rules that the players can interact with but with which they have complete freedom. There are no goals that are necessary to progress in the game and players are free to create, modify or destroy their environment. Malinga describes himself as an artist proficient in a plethora of different media forms – “I enjoy creating art out of anything and everything I can find ... games such as Minecraft are an excellent way of letting players get involved in the creation of art,” he says. Prinz is passionate about playing and making games and creating memorable work. He says, “I’ve always created games and narrative experiences for my friends ... I’d construct some of these experiences with Minecraft. Thus I have quite a bit of experience with the game.”

22 Address: Unknown 26 Home truths and storied streets 28 Coming home to South Africa 30 At home in your skin 32 How African homes impact health RODWIN MALINGA



36 Backyard not backward 38 Kalahari communes 40 Q&A Ecobricks 42 Home is where the heart is 44 Migrant moms keep the home fires burning 45 You and Big Brother, @Home online 46 COLUMN The mouth of a shark 48 COLUMN Pushing privacy buttons 50 HISTORY The first homes at Wits

12 38


34 PROFILE Kirsten Doermann decolonises houses





For some people, Ekhaya (home) may evoke feelings of belonging and security, representing a physical space inhabited by people with whom they identify. To others, the word may induce quite the opposite reaction – Ekhaya may be a physical or psychological space that people reject. Issue 7 of Curios.ty, themed Ekhaya, features research across Wits that explores the concept of home.


grew up in Katlehong in the East Rand. My home for my formative years, I will always identify it as a place where I belong. At the same time, I still have vivid memories of violence that my hometown was subjected to in the ‘80s and early ‘90s and the memorials of those buried in the fight for freedom. Sadly, although there has been some progress in uplifting this community, not much has changed in my home, 25 years after democracy. As South Africans went to the polls this month, some politicians continue to use divisive issues relating to land and migration to score political points. This issue of Curios.ty features research-based stories on land ownership and reclamation, migration, and xenophobia, amongst others. As an internal migrant from south-eastern to northern Johannesburg, I relate to the story on internal migration. At the same time, I must admit that I feel just as at home in a physics laboratory at Wits – as I do in Russia, the US, or at CERN in Geneva where I undertake my research. While the concept of home may ground me physically to a particular space and time, the advent of the Fourth Industrial Revolution is changing the world as we know it. The world of physics

Curios.ty is a print and digital magazine that aims to make the research at Wits University accessible to multiple publics. It tells the stories of pioneering research at Wits through the voices of talented researchers, academics, and students. First published in 2017, Curios.ty is published three times per year. Each issue is thematic and explores research across faculties and disciplines at the University that relate to that theme. This issue is themed Ekhaya (home). The word ‘home’ evokes responses spanning the physical space you inhabit, where you feel you belong, where you’re from and what you identify with, including the physical/psychological space you may return to – or reject. This issue features research-based stories about the places humans first called home, through to homes of the future, in the arts, in politics, property, and being at home in one’s own skin, or homeless. ‘Home’ is as subjective as it is tangible and Ekhaya explores it all.


is my intellectual home, but the confines of time and space matter less as I engage remotely with peers across borders in real time. Issue 7 of Curios.ty includes stories about homes of the future, assistive tech in the home, what our prehistoric homes can teach us, and even what we can learn from birds who build multigenerational treehouse nests. Discover how housing quality has changed in sub-Saharan Africa, and how housing is being decolonised in Yeoville with the transformation of Edwardian-era bungalows into African urban compounds. Explore how we share spaces via backyarding and with the homeless, and have your questions on ecobricks answered. How is Ekhaya represented in the arts and how does it feel to not feel at home in your own skin? Ekhaya is as subjective as it is tangible. I invite you to journey with us through this issue. Share your views via Professor Zeblon Vilakazi Deputy Vice-Chancellor: Research and Postgraduate Affairs

Shirona Patel Head: Communications

Buhle Zuma Senior Communications Officer

Dr Robin Drennan Director: Research Development


Reshma Lakha-Singh Public Relations and Events Manager and Curios.ty Project Manager

COVER Design by Rodwin Malinga and Erik Printz, Wits fourthyear Digital Arts students majoring in Game Design.

Refilwe Mabula Communications Officer

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Dr Kola Akinsomi is an Associate Professor in the School of Construction Economics and Management at Wits. He holds a PhD in Real Estate Finance from the National University of Singapore. His research interests include real estate portfolio management, real estate capital markets, real estate investment trusts, and emerging real estate markets and housing economics. He is the recipient of the Young Researcher Rating Award by the National Research Foundation of South Africa, awarded to researchers under 40 based on their research impact and potential.


Dr Gerald Chungu is an architect and urban designer lecturing in the School of Architecture and Planning at Wits University. He holds a PhD in Urbanism from the University of Venice in Italy, a Master’s in Engineering (Urban Design) from Tongji University in Shanghai, China and a Bachelor of Architecture degree from Copperbelt University in Zambia. In addition to academia, his experience includes practicing architecture in Zambia and China. He is currently involved in teaching Advanced Architectural Design and Sustainable and Energy Efficient Cities courses.


Barry Dwolatzky is an Emeritus Professor in the Wits School of Electrical and Information Engineering and Director of the Joburg Centre for Software Engineering (JCSE), which he established in May 2005. He founded the Tshimologong Digital Innovation Precinct, a Wits University tech hub in Braamfontein, which was launched in 2016. His research interests include software engineering and digital transformation within the context of the 4th Industrial Revolution. In 2013, he was named IT Personality of the Year by the Institute of IT Professionals of South Africa.


Loren Landau is Professor and South African Research Chair on Mobility and the Politics of Difference at Wits and former director of the African Centre for Migration and Society. His current research explores comparative perspectives on how mobility is reshaping the politics of

A number of Wits experts are featured in this edition of Curios.ty. View the profiles of all the researchers and contributors at:

rapidly diversifying and expanding communities. Through examinations starting in South Africa and extending across Africa and elsewhere, it will identify and explain emerging forms of political subjectivity, political authority, and governance regimes in spaces characterised by continued mobility.


Dr Duduzile Ndlovu is a postdoctoral research fellow in the African Centre for Migration and Society. She is interested in how people make meaning of precarity – such as migrants’ making their lives under constant threat of xenophobic violence in Johannesburg. Her PhD focused on Zimbabwean migrants’ use of art to navigate precarious lives, speak about and memorialise past stateperpetrated violence in Zimbabwe and xenophobia in South Africa. She is exploring art-based research as a strategy to access indigenous ways of knowing and developing indigenous research methodologies.










Dr Fredros Okumu is an Associate Professor in the Wits School of Public Health and Director of Science at the Ifakara Health Institute in Tanzania. He holds a PhD in Infectious Tropical Diseases from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, a Master’s in Applied Parasitology (University of Nairobi, Kenya) and a Master’s in Geo-information Science, Earth Observation and Environmental Modelling (Lund University, Sweden). He is currently pursuing a Master’s of Business Administration in International Health Management at the Swiss Tropical and Public Health Institute.


Dr Margot Rubin is a Senior Researcher in the African Research Chair in Spatial Analysis and City Planning at Wits. Her research since 2002 has focused on policy, housing and urban development issues. Her PhD in Urban Planning and Politics interrogated the role of the legal system in urban governance. She is currently engaged in work around mega housing projects and issues of gender and the city and has an interest in inner city regeneration, inclusionary housing policy and transit-oriented development.


Jo Vearey is an Associate Professor and Director of the African Centre for Migration & Society at Wits. Driven by a social justice agenda, her research supports the development of improved responses to migration and health. With an Investigator Award from the Wellcome Trust, Vearey initiated the Migration and Health Project Southern Africa in 2016. She is involved in multiple international partnerships and is Vice-Chair of the global Migration, Health, and Development Research Initiative. She holds a PhD in Public Health from Wits.


Archaeologists and anthropologists peer into original homes of the past to see what made us who we are today. SHAUN SMILLIE




here was a time when the laughter of Stone Age children filled the Sibudu Cave. About 64 000 years ago, a child was part of a hunter-gatherer family that took temporary shelter in this cave, which lies close to the KwaZulu-Natal town of KwaDukuza. When this child died, it didn’t leave its bones in the cave for discovery by archaeologists of the future – the only thing left behind was a milk tooth. In modern times, the mythological ‘tooth fairy’ whisks away children’s teeth, but we don’t know what the rituals were back then. Wits archaeologist Professor Lyn Wadley is thankful that this tooth – and those of other children – ended up on the cave floor, because they reveal just how much humans have changed since we gave up our hunter-gatherer ways.


“The interesting thing about the teeth is that we know this is a home-base, because there were children there, and that is quite nice,” says Wadley. “But the [research] papers also suggest that the teeth were perhaps a little bit larger than the teeth of children today. So maybe the people were a little more robust.” These children perhaps had access to better diets than we have today. “A lot of people have pointed out that moving to the diet that farming people had was not necessarily improving the health of people. There are higher carbohydrates compared to protein, and with it comes poorer tooth quality and poorer bone quality,” says Wadley. “Part of the reason why hunter-gatherers had a better diet was not because of what they were eating, but the fact that groups were smaller and this meant that people had better access to quality plant foods.” Cave sites like Sibudu are providing scientists with a peek


into what our earliest homes looked like. These glimpses give archaeologists not only a better understanding of how our ancestors lived, but also how we evolved into the species we are today.


From the deep past, scientists are uncovering the stuff that makes us human – from forward planning, to the very beginnings of art. One of these discoveries is that our ancestors were not homebodies. We were wanderers who kept our stays short. At Blombos Cave in the southern Cape, Wits Professor Christopher Henshilwood and his team have been sifting through the leftovers of these brief visits that go back over 100 000 years. “We think that Blombos, at some stages, was occupied for just one night. We are seeing what looks like a ghost of a visit. You find a few shellfish, a tiny little fire and almost nothing else. And then there is nothing after that,” says Henshilwood.


Some of the discoveries at Blombos have advanced our insight into early human cognitive development. Last year, Henshilwood and his team revealed a silcrete (hardened mineral crust) flake to the world that had six crosshatched lines on it – much like a hashtag. A human, using an ochre crayon, 73 000 years ago, had drawn these lines. It took two years of scientific testing to come to the conclusion that this is the earliest example of a drawing, says Henshilwood. Even this long ago, at Blombos Cave and Klipdrift Shelter, another of the sites excavated by Henshilwood’s team, you can see that people bring to the site what they need to carry out a particular task. “These people are capable of planning, they have templates or recipes in their heads, for what they need

Klipdrift Cave and Klipdrift Shelter, located in the De Hoop Nature Reserve, southern Cape, South Africa, have elicited findings from roughly 65 000 years ago to 59 400 years ago, including a hominin molar, floral remains, and more than 95 pieces of eggshell engraved with diverse, abstract patterns.

“One of these discoveries is that our ancestors were not homebodies. We were wanderers who kept our stays short” in the cave,” says Henshilwood. “This is one of the markers of behavioural modernity.” When that artist made that drawing on that piece of silcrete, he or she would have been one of only about 10 000 humans living in the whole of Africa. There are other artefacts left at these temporary homes that point to our ancestors being highly intelligent problem-solvers. At Border Cave on the Swaziland border, Wadley and Dr Lucinda Backwell found traces of poison on a thin wooden stick that dates back at least 20 000 years. The poison is thought to have been used on arrows.

HOMEMAKERS AND HUNTER-GATHERERS Wadley believes that snares were also used by the people who periodically made Sibudu their home. But it is the presence of buffalo bones in the cave that points to team work, which would have probably included women. “If you look at your typical hunter-gatherer group – let us say there are 60 people – more than half of those are going to be children who wouldn't take part in the hunt. Then you have some

old people. So if you break down the demographics, you might only end up with 10 able-bodied male hunters,” says Wadley. “If you want to manage a dangerous animal hunt, you are going to have to bring in the women too, even if they are just beaters.” What archaeologists are rarely seeing is evidence of other homes away from the caves and rock shelters. These rudimentary shelters would have been where our ancestors slept for a couple of nights before moving on.


Wits anthropologist Professor Robert Thornton says that three basic needs would have driven early humans into utilising and making shelters. “Our earliest habitats were primarily designed to keep our food safe, secondarily to keep the goggas [insects] and other stuff away, and finally for climate control. But before that, it was important to keep your view open,” he says. “People imagined that early man lived in caves, or they had to have four walls around them, but that is one of the worst things you can do, because you cannot see the rest of your environment. You want to be in the open, you want to see 360 degrees, particularly when there are big cats around.” But it is in the caves where the treasures lie. It is here that the artefacts are best preserved, and where they accumulate in layers of earth that sometimes stretch back hundreds of thousands of years. At Blombos, Henshilwood hopes he might one day find the rest of that silcrete flake that would reveal more of that earliest drawing. But there are more artefacts to be found in places we once called home that will give us insight into a time when humans first began to act and think like we do. C


HOMES OF THE FUTURE At home here in Africa, the population is exploding just as housing is shrinking and tech is advancing. Our homes in the future may be hyper-connected pods that transform our habitat, communities and politics as well as the way we live. SHAUN SMILLIE



n trash collection day, a waste-picker parks her self-drive trolley and gathers recyclable garbage. Inside the nearby house, electricity supplied by the micro grid fires up a dishwasher, while overhead a drone competes for airspace amongst the hadedas – Joburg’s ubiquitous, vocal bird – as it scans the ‘hood for security threats. This could be a typical higher income Joburg suburb in the future, when lumbering state service providers like Eskom have bitten the dust and local power producers, waste collectors, and water suppliers have replaced them. It is also a world where that phrase the ‘Internet of Things’ has become a reality, thanks to lightning fast cyber connectivity embedded in physical devices, everyday appliances, and perhaps even in human beings. Professor Barry Dwolatzky of the Joburg Centre for Software Engineering at Wits believes this is a future that Joburgers might experience in decades to come.


The Africa we will inhabit in future is going to be far different from today. This continent will experience a dramatic population explosion, expected to double by 2050. Of that, 60% of Africans will call cities their home. Johannesburg by 2040, according to a report released by the Johannesburg Roads Agency, is predicted to increase to between six and eight million people – over double its size today. This rapid urbanisation is likely to leave its mark on the homes of our descendants. This will also be a world where large sections of the population, like today, will most likely be living in informal settlements. The Utopian Village, designed in 2018 by first-year students in the School of Architecture and Planning at Wits, was inspired by a decolonised design curriculum that contextualises the Global South and informs teaching design through an African lens. The Utopian Village responds to local South African culture, context, human migration, new emerging social organisation, and the demands of global environmental change and sustainability. These are the dwellings of the future. Lecturers: Mike Dawson; Ariane Janse Van Rensburg; Sechaba Maape; Kshama Rajagopalan; and Anita Szentesi.


In this age of densification, homes are likely to be downsized and even shared. “If you look at it, we are a young country and if you look at the trends of young people, they change jobs quite frequently, they often live far from where they work, and it is expensive to travel,” says Dr Gerald Chungu of the Wits School of Architecture and Planning. “This means that they are going to be more willing to live in smaller spaces or to share spaces. This is already a common trend and from reading this we can see the direction towards smaller housing.” Transporting these workers to their jobs – even in the future, believes Chungu – could be that bane of the present day transport system: the mini bus taxi. Though, by then, they might be better policed.


In this future, it might still be state policy to provide housing for the poor. This policy might borrow on what is already being worked on now. “Instead of the idea of delivering tiny RDP [Reconstruction and Development Programme] houses, we have seen a shift in housing policy in the last two decades towards settlement upgrading,” explains Professor Anne Fitchett, Acting Dean of the Faculty of Engineering and the Built Environment at Wits. “It is speaking of a more inclusive approach. It is not just about putting a roof over someone's head but creating a broader living environment, with access to jobs, access to schools and hospitals.”


Finding enough space for its residents will be a challenge for the future Joburg, but technology is likely to be the saviour. “In terms of smart cities, the use of digital technology to help to manage everything that happens in the city will become widespread and very profoundly different. And I am sure that the construction of dwellings will be built around the capabilities of these digital technologies,” says Dwolatzky, who caught a glimpse of future housing possibilities when he visited the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) media laboratory in the US. “There is a South African architect there who is working on a project where he is designing a pod-like house. It is a very efficient use of space, with very embedded technology. It is almost like you live in a pod, but you don't feel like you are living in a pod. So I have seen one future, but whether it is going to be our future, I don't know.” What is likely to influence this future are the differing needs of the Global North and Global South, believe Dwolatzky and Chungu. While Africa is set to experience a population explosion, Europe is going through the initial stages of a population collapse. “In Africa, the biggest challenge might be the use of energy, where houses are designed to better use energy, dealing with things like waste and recycling. If we are not careful, cities will become choked in waste,” says Dwolatzky.


The state might not provide these services in future, as it does today. “We are going to move away from the big grids on to the smaller micro grids – the current thinking is that you build a huge power station, which then powers millions of consumers,” he explains. In future, however, these are services that could be provided at a micro-level, for example, a couple of houses linked to a solar energy source or a recycler dealing with a street’s rubbish.


“This rapid urbanisation is likely to leave its mark on the homes of our descendants. This will also be a world where large sections of the population, like today, will most likely be living in informal settlements.” The home of the future is also likely to supplement its own power through super-efficient solar panels on roofs, and even in walls. It is likely that not just the wealthy will take advantage of tech. Fitchett says that experiments involving solar paint are underway. This paint will absorb sunlight and convert it into electricity. Recycled waste could also find another use in the future. “At the moment there is also a lot of work going into the development of different types of concrete. There is one where they are using recycled polystyrene as an additive into cement, which makes it a very good insulator,” says Fitchett. But this move to decentralise might even have an influence on the politics of these communities. This has already happened in the US.


“Once you break things down into small parcels you start to think in a more decentralised way, rather than at a national level,” says Dwolatzky. “In the US, local communities are becoming more and more the centre of local democracy and people are losing interest in national politics, because local gives them everything they need. And it is encouraged by micro grids, water recycling and producing things locally.” Already just over the horizon is new communication technology set to change the way we live. This is 5th Generation cellular mobile communications, which will be faster than anything we have today, and should be implemented in the next few years. “There is a pro and a con,” says Dwolatzky “The pro is that you can draw much more data and make better decisions about things like the use of energy in the home. The disadvantage is that it opens the way for a lot more surveillance.” Besides ultra-fast cyber connectivity, other technologies have already made their appearance and are set to leave their mark on the future. One of these is 3D printing. “These new modes of manufacturing lead to the possibility of mass producing stuff that could be tailor-made for every single person’s needs,” says Dwolatzky. Although the future may be a scary place, technology in our homes and on our streets will most likely save the day. And yes, your bot will be there to hold your hand. C Minecraft design by Rodwin Malinga and Erik Prinz, Wits fourth-year Game Design students.



TECH AT HOME Eye-gaze devices as assistive tech have the potential to empower people with disabilities by improving their independence at home.




its biomedical engineer Adam Pantanowitz discovered he had a neuromuscular condition as a teenager. Since then, the Lecturer in the School of Electrical and Information Engineering has researched the potential of technology to empower people with disabilities. In particular, he has explored the untapped potential of the brain through brain-computer interfaces (BCIs).


In February 2019, in an experiment believed to be a world first, Pantanowitz and colleagues incorporated the human brain as a computer network. Dubbed ‘BrainConnect’, the proof-ofconcept innovation is under review for publication in the journal Communications in Information Systems. The researchers connected two computers through the human brain and successfully transmitted words like ‘hello’ and ‘apple’, passively, without the user being aware that a message is present. “We don’t know of anywhere else where the brain has been used to connect two disconnected computers so this presents an interesting theoretical system with a human literally being ‘in the loop’,” says Pantanowitz, co-author of the paper with Wits alumni Rushil Daya and Michael Dukes.


BrainConnect links light, signal transmission, the visual cortex of the human brain, and two computers. It works by attaching a device to a person’s head, which links the two computers. The person passively stares at a flashing light whilst a word, for example, ‘apple’, is encoded in the light signal. The flashing light stimulates the visual cortex in the brain and an electroencephalogram [EEG – a measurement that detects electrical activity in the brain] wirelessly transmits information to a second computer, which decodes the signals to appear on the second computer. “You can think of it like Morse code via light signals,” says Pantanowitz. BrainConnect can decipher up to 17 symbols at a rate of four seconds per symbol. The more relaxed the person is, the greater the possibility of invoking a response through this ‘steady state visually evoked potential’.


Although BrainConnect is fledgling research, Pantanowitz says this brain-computer interface may have applications in eye-gaze


devices, which allow for the control of the environment by detecting where gaze is focussed. In a similar project, Wits students Kimoon Kim and Chelsey Chewins worked with Pantanowitz to create an eye-tracking system to interface more naturally with a computer. This project enables you to control your computer using a mouse that you control with your eyes. “BrainConnect works through light stimulus of the visual cortex. Similar eye-gaze devices already serve as assistive tech to empower motor-impaired people or paraplegics,” he says.


He cites futurists who predict greater human-tech integration by 2030. The Fourth Industrial Revolution [4IR] is a feature of 21st Century society – human beings are now deeply connected to tech through smart phones and other close-contact devices. Research in South Africa and Africa, similar to this engineering innovation at Wits University, has the potential to advance 4IR. “Africa’s challenges need unique solutions. The brain research is being conducted under what’s known as a ‘frugal innovation’, where low-cost equipment and innovative approaches keep costs down,” says Pantanowitz.


Another of his similarly frugal innovations was a basic robotic hand, the prototype of which cost just R1 800 in South Africa, compared to a budget of close to a million Euros for a similarly functioning device in Europe. Pantanowitz and Wits students Graham Peyton and Rudolf Hoehler created a device with similar intentions to the European model, using the same technology of gazing at light to turn the device off and on. Pantanowitz previously also pioneered 'Brainternet', where he connected the human brain to the internet in real time and streamed brainwaves onto the internet. He says that for people with epilepsy, for example, Brainternet could potentially predict the next seizure. “If they get into a particularly bad space, they could alert their friends and family without them being able to do so physically.” Pantanowitz says, “There is potential for us in Africa to advance brain-computer interfaces and other assistive technologies, which could empower people with disabilities to control their environments with greater ease, and their homes are one context in which this can be life-changing.” C

Wits biomedical engineer Adam Pantanowitz believes tech like Brainternet can empower people with disabilities.


HOME IN THE ARTS home: /həʊm/ noun 1. The place where one lives permanently, especially as a member of a family or household. Arts: the theory and physical expression of creativity found in human societies. UFRIEDA HO

Home – when you’re thousands of kilometres away from it – is maybe what you carry in memories. It’s also what you might choose to forget.


or Dr Duduzile Ndlovu of the African Centre for Migration and Society (ACMS) at Wits, the way memory, identity and a sense of belonging keep changing – especially for migrants – makes art one of the most powerful ways to make meaning of dislocations, disorientations and journeys. It is also a way to process versions of truths and to find power in personal creative expression. She argues that art, like indigenous wisdom, is a part of knowledge production that has depth and reveals clues to lived experience, even if it may remain outside of academic convention. She believes art deserves increased academic inquiry to avoid becoming a blind spot that prevents transformation in academia. Zimbabwe-born Ndlovu has lived in South Africa for 13 years. Through her research and poetry, she has explored the use of poetry, story, music and performance art in how she and other Zimbabweans living in Johannesburg remember the Gukurahundi. This was a series of massacres of Ndebele civilians by the Zimbabwe National Army between 1983 and 1987. Conservative estimates put the number of people killed in that period at around 20 000.


“In Zimbabwe, Gukurahundi remains silenced from the public domain, although people continue to speak (about it) in ways that


are not always clearly recognisable, to avoid a backlash from the government. There is no narrative to make sense of the event or to justify the experience as necessary in people’s lives. This means the narrative of Gukurahundi is open to being reframed in different contexts,” she says. For many Zimbabweans living in South Africa, being away from home has opened up a space of freedom to speak out. And art has given them the tools to frame and reframe their stories for different contexts and different audiences. “The idea of home is therefore a complex one. It is not necessarily the place of safety we think it should be,” she says. Distance from home allows people to “constantly re-story their lives”, creating versions of themselves to fit different spaces at different times. “With art, we don’t need to be after absolute truths. We’re about asking questions about versions of the truth. Questions like ‘whose voice gets heard?’, how official versions of the truth don’t turn out to stand up over time,” she says. “There is also a sense of hope in art; it creates a space that allows people to be, to be social, and even to take enjoyment in expressing and sharing.” These days, Ndlovu finds herself singing songs from her childhood to her children, who are growing up as South Africans. These songs connect her to Zimbabwe, she says. The words are

reminders of what’s been passed to her, a kind of birthright in lyrics, but they are reminders, too, that for her there is no “going back”. It doesn’t leave her in an in-between space, though. Ndlovu stresses that it’s not a case of being split or not feeling at home in either place. Rather, that she’s still wholly and fully herself, existing in two different contexts. Meghna Singh, a Research Associate at the ACMS and PhD candidate at the University of Cape Town, relates to the contexts that Ndlovu speaks of as liminal spaces. They’re the “no man’s lands” that Singh explores in her artistic video productions and installations. Since Singh moved to South Africa from India in 2013, her works have included a short film called Arrested Motion. For nine months, she followed a group of Indian seafarers stuck in Cape Town as the supply ship they were working on was detained en route to Dubai from Nigeria. “These men literally didn’t know when they would be allowed to set sail again and they were caught up in a world of complex channelling of capital between shipping corporations,” she says.


Singh used the technique of observation film with no dialogue, and soundscapes, to create an immersive experience for her audience. Her art showed the passage of time and its effects on the bodies confined to a place that became both home and prison. She did something similar in Rusted Diamond when, on and off for three years, she spent time with a group of Ghanaian men who were left to pump water daily from a rusted wreck they lived in, which was once a deep-sea diamond mining vessel in Namibia. She also turned this film into an installation that included flooding three rooms at The Castle in Cape Town and asking people to enter, mostly on their own, to temporarily be immersed in these other worlds of precariousness. “I am hoping that I am creating experiences for my audience to think about how people on the fringes are caught up in capitalism,

“Distance from home allows people to “constantly re-story their lives”, creating versions of themselves to fit different spaces at different times. ” and how they are abandoned when capitalism moves onto the next thing. It’s part of creating connection and empathy,” she says. Singh brings this visual methodology to her current research and art project called Container, in collaboration with her filmmaker partner, Simon Woods. The virtual reality and installation art piece has received National Geographic Explorer funding and is expected be completed in October when world anti-slavery month is commemorated. Container makes visible the history of the slave trade and focuses on the São José Paquete Africa, a Portuguese slave ship that sank with 212 slaves on board en route to Brazil from Lisbon in 1794, near today’s Clifton beach.


The project hooks back to the present day, showing how more than 200 years later, people are still reduced to commodities, often forced from their homes to become modern-day slaves. They often moved in metal shipping containers across oceans, stuck here for weeks with the memory of home as a place of safety and sanctuary – or just the known – disrupted forever. These are the contexts and lived experiences from which Singh and Ndlovu want people never to turn away. C Top left: Rusting Diamond by Meghna Singh Below: Screen shots from Arrested Motion by Meghna Singh




OWNER OR ROAMER? Is buying a house still the solid investment once thought or is it time to turn nomadic?



ust when South African property prices looked like they would rebound from the effects of the global economic crisis in 2008, a protracted period of slow domestic economic growth set in, slowing down house price inflation. According to property analytics company, Lightstone, year-onyear house price inflation hit a high of 6.5% in 2014, the highest in the last decade, and has since slipped back to its lowest level in the last decade at 3.3%. This means that anyone who owns property is seeing the value of that property contracting in real terms, as inflation averages over 5%. The forecast for 2019 is more of the same: subdued growth. However, coming off a low base, we may see a positive turnaround in the second half of the year. The main impacts on house price inflation are made by consumer price inflation; income levels not keeping track of the rising costs of living; and interest rates. The result of slower economic growth has been an expansion of the number of South Africans moving into the lower end of the property sector, as first-time buyers, while homeowners in higher-value segments opt to downscale. While this has held up prices in the more affordable segments of the residential property market, low economic growth will slowly see those segments losing steam too.


If residential property seems like a poor investment alongside other asset classes, Dr Kola Akinsomi, Associate Professor of Real Estate Finance and Investments in the Wits School of Construction Economics and Management (CEM), says the investment case for property should not be measured by short-term returns. “Compared with 2008, when the prime interest rate for those getting mortgages from banks was 16%, the cost of borrowing is now 6% lower. Yes, property price growth in real terms is negative right now, but property is relatively illiquid with high transaction costs, so it’s not a short-term asset. Buyers need to look at it as a saving mechanism,” Akinsomi says. “If you buy property today and pay down the principal amount over the term of a typical 20-year mortgage term, at the end of that term, the property belongs to you. The average age of


first-time buyers is now 37, which means most of these buyers will have paid off a property just before retirement age. They have built capital and they can decide what to do with it – which is very often to downsize and have some of the capital returned to them at the point of sale.” The alternative is renting long-term. “If you don’t invest, whatever excess you have after the rental cost each month needs to be put into retirement savings, but we know that most people tend not to be so diligent about saving. It is still wise to invest in property because that capital value will come back to us.” Akinsomi says there are few investments that are as low-risk as property. “Property makes a good inflation hedge over the long term. The current trough is actually the perfect time to buy – it is a buyer’s market right now.”


A potential problem that may arise in the lower-value end is a shift towards the gig economy, which means fewer young people have long-term employment that lends itself to being seen as a good credit risk for lenders. The solution, says Akinsomi, will probably involve both the private and public sectors. “The government can intervene to partner with developers, either by supplying state-owned land for development, or by applying tax incentives to make the lower tier of property values more accessible. Such inducements could stimulate demand, as could innovation from banks in developing mortgage-backed securities to bring to market as investable assets for the public.” Prisca Simbanegavi, a Lecturer in CEM, says there are risks for property buyers – in the form of utility costs and municipal inefficiencies – that can raise the levels of mortgage defaults, as these can put pressure on affordability, but she doesn’t expect to see house prices going down for long. Residential markets are usually resilient to short-term changes in demand. “Supply will remain under pressure. It’s always better to buy than to rent when rentals exceed mortgage repayments. While freedom of movement comes as a benefit of renting in the short term, the benefits of ownership outweigh those of renting. You’d rather have paid more into your bond than to deal with escalating rental costs.” C



If home is your castle, can the office be your palace?


hile ‘office, sweet office’ might not have quite the same ring to it as ‘home, sweet home’, the need to ensure wellbeing at work is nevertheless critical. In fact, Professor Andrew Thatcher, an organisational and industrial psychologist at Wits explains that the focus now, more than ever, is on ensuring that workplaces are not just productive – but also actually good for one’s health. In particular, innovation around office design is at the core of ensuring workplaces can serve as a healthy ‘home away from home’. While the kind of work you do and your relationship with your boss are crucial factors, the three most critical factors in constructing favourable work conditions are fresh airflow, noise levels, and the quality of light. “The most important factor to [sustain] mental health from a built environment perspective is actually fresh air,” says Thatcher. “Generally, a good and healthy environment is one where you have adequate lighting for the type of work that you are doing … Natural light is generally the best for most tasks.” Daylight ensures you remain connected to the outside world – rather than become immersed in a workplace bubble. “If you are working entirely with artificial light, it creates a psychological disconnect.” In terms of noise levels, suitability is determined according to the type of tasks. However, research has also shown a link between personality types and productive noise levels.

“Extroverts tend to function better in noisy environments whereas introverts tend to concentrate much better in quiet environments.” WORK MOVES AND ‘COFFICES’ ‘Agile working spaces’ are one way to cater to more varied needs: “People, during a work day, are not always doing the same task; instead, they move between tasks. At times they need to collaborate, at other times they need privacy; they might also need some downtime just to get a coffee.” With activity-based workspaces, companies create diverse office areas and people move between them as needed. Thatcher has conducted research on the benefits of these spaces in some wellknown South African companies. He found that initially employees were very resistant to the change – becoming territorial over spaces. However, once they move beyond this reaction, the advantages are striking: “People end up moving around a lot more, which is good for their health … They also are able to choose where [in the office spaces] they can be most productive.” The rise of mobile office spaces and the use of sites like coffee shops as instant offices, can also be useful as it allows people to move around until they find the most appropriate space for them. HOLISTIC OFFICE HEALTH Another innovation in workplace health is the shift towards establishing so-called green buildings or well-building institutes. These are workspaces designed to ensure productivity as well as promote holistic wellbeing. Great success has been shown when a

workplace integrates access to other services for their employees, for example, when an office complex also offers a gym, dry cleaner, or even has an adjacent shopping centre. Initiatives that further encourage workers to feel some kind of personal connection to their office space, such as decorating a desk, have also shown positive results. “The minimalism trend in the early 2000s to limit clutter and have clear desks was an unmitigated disaster … In most office environments, some personalisation allows people to connect to their work. When they connect to their work, they are more likely to be more productive and feel better about being there.” Policies that allow people certain days when they can work from home rather than at the office actually have contradictory results. Research showed that in order to cope with the disruptions of the home environment, workers push themselves harder and for longer hours. “Organisations love that – but it is not necessarily healthy and good for a person. It may lead to issues of burnout.” One of the key challenges about modern work life is how it tends to leak into the home space so significantly. “There are real psychological dangers when you think it is okay to answer a work call at dinner … You are extending your disembodied self into another realm.” As such, Thatcher supports initiatives like those in France where it is illegal for companies to force employees to respond to work messages or emails after working hours. “It is great – it is turning around to an organisation and saying that you do not own this person’s life.” C



The national general elections in 2019 served as a platform for land redress to be discussed, promised and instilled in the collective consciousness of South Africans. But was this the silver bullet to address the gross inequality in a country so many call home? SHANTHINI NAIDOO



here is a side route into the Sandton CBD that can be used to avoid the arterial chaos in Joburg traffic. It is a hilly but quiet avenue, interrupted only by birdsong and three traffic circles. The homes on either side of the road are anomalous, even by this city’s standards of wealth. Sprawling mansions with ornate double gates that open remotely like filigree wings. Large European SUVs appear from long driveways to join the commute. Interestingly, there are just a few people visible along this road. Dog-walking, grass-manicuring, rose-tending people who might have travelled in to the area for their work. It must be quite unnerving to service properties like these in the time that the “land issue” in South Africa emerged – 22 years (two centuries for some) since the imbalance in land ownership began.


The national general elections in 2019 were a platform for land discussions. Academics and experts say it may not mean that


anyone who lives on millionaires’ row will be swapping places with their staff (although, constitutionally, it could happen) but, even if it did, what would it mean in a globalising world that encourages mobility to the extent that some humans are planning on moving to Mars?


Clinical psychiatrist and Wits alumnus, Dr Jonathan Moch says when thinking about land, it is important to understand why ownership is so important to human beings: “It goes back to our deepest evolutionary drive, the need for security. It is a basic core psychological requirement (according to Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of needs). It explains the formation of armed tribes, fortified villages, border controls, refugee crises, and building walls to stop the Mexicans from getting into the USA. And even at the home level, high walls, electric fencing, armed responses, entrenched property rights, all speak to this need.” Moch says that land ownership, historically, is a major and

contentious issue – one that is likely to continue indefinitely. “Not only in South Africa, but every habitable place on the planet from the beginning of recorded history, has battled with land, literally. Apartheid has many forms, especially around land division. Race, of course, in South Africa, but also religious affiliation (referring to the conflict in Northern Ireland), economic status (such as gated communities), class and creed (which exists in India). Thus, land ownership is a great divider. The Bible is dotted with many examples of land issues ending in fatal wars, such as the one that continues to this day in the Middle East.” For South Africans though, the issue is closer to home – so to speak – because of our recent past when people were not allowed to buy land, and those who were, had to move too far from any location deemed decent, because the Group Areas Act of 1950 divided people geographically by their race. This, while others built their mansions on the road previously mentioned. Who wouldn’t feel piqued once it is put into context? Obviously, land ownership also comes down to money and

power, says Moch. “Economically, land ownership is an essential financial collateral that can secure a loan for a business, providing essential capital – and a vital psychological wealth effect. Owners of land such as farms have enormous power over indigent workers who live on that land, which goes back to the Dukes of Old England. This is why there is enormous tension, especially on rural farms in SA. Now, amazingly, Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos et al want people to inhabit Mars. This land story never ends. In fact, never a dull moment when it comes to the human obsession for land use, the protection and possession of it.”


Dr Margot Rubin, Senior Researcher in the Wits School of Architecture and Planning, says there are as many reasons for people wanting to own land. “The legacy of people not being able to own land has had a huge impact on the psyche of the nation. People were simply disallowed from owning land. It was a key way in which the


apartheid state constructed and created secondary citizens. This was a discussion in 1992 [when apartheid was abolished in SA], so there is very little doubt that the redress of property ownership needs to happen.” Rubin says the method and the reasoning behind land redistribution is imperative, although if it isn’t done correctly, it is unlikely to be the solution for our economic disparities. She says ownership as well as secure tenure of land, such as rental agreements, which provide access to the city and its opportunities, are the starting block to economic freedom. Rubin says that a more balanced view on what property means as a vehicle for growth should be taken. “It is a question of access. What provides the best access to opportunities in cities? More than access to land, as a country we need to ensure that everyone has a chance at economic growth, and this could mean ownership, or good quality accommodation under secure tenure [rental agreement] in a backyard where someone is not being exploited, that enables them to earn a living in an urban environment.” “At the same time, we need to ensure that we change our property owner profile, so people who have it are able to collateralise it, to do other things with that money and have social mobility. It is about enabling people in a way that is beneficial for them to achieve their best potential as a human being,” she says. “We need to reconsider the question of rental and see it as an important feasible housing option, which allows for mobility,


particularly for people where the need for mobility to find work is a priority.” However, this type of reasoning may not be enough for South Africans, says Loren Landau, Professor and South African Research Chair on Migration and the Politics of Difference at the African Centre for Migration and Society at Wits. He says that the emotional reasoning for land will need to be addressed: “Some kind of substantive land redistribution may be essential to satisfying people’s legitimate demands for justice.” Yet, he too believes that property ownership may be not the only way to ensure greater economic inclusion and upward mobility for the poor majority. “I don’t believe there is an innate human desire to own land or property. For thousands of years, people have experimented with multiple models of land use and ownership. Some include no ownership, some collective ownership or management, some privatised, commodified land. My sense is that two things are at work now – both highly symbolic and rooted in particular South African histories.” Landau says the symbolism in the land redistribution issue is that it has “become a sign of transformation quite apart from any material or social benefit it might provide. Also, we live in a commodified, capitalist system where many people associate private land ownership with status. Access to land use is something we all need, but in different ways. While greater equity


The redistribution of land issue took centre stage in the 2019 elections by playing on the nation’s economic woes, emotions and sentimental needs for redress – suddenly urgent 25 years into democracy. “It’s time”, says Roger Southall, Emeritus Professor of Sociology at Wits. “This is such a wound of the past, I don’t think we will easily overcome it.” Southall wrote recently that while society should be wary about electioneering, the issue of land ownership is also not only about getting votes. “Politicians say things, whether or not it is entirely wise to say them, to get votes. Yet the land debate is about much more than party politicking. In many ways, it goes to the heart of South Africa’s post-colonial politics. It speaks to fundamental racial chasms. This points to the very real danger that the different terms on which the land issue is debated simply don’t address each other.” As a country debating land redistribution, those who are opposed to the idea must first be aware of the “grossly disproportionate amount of land owned by whites which has arisen out of the injustices of the colonial past, and agree that

it needs to be addressed for reasons of both social justice and political stability,” he says. Worryingly, even this first step does not seem to have been taken by South Africans whose emotions run high once the debate begins. Southall wrote recently “there is disagreement about ways, means, and the urgency of land reform”. “The land debate is here, and it is not going to be wished away quietly. Even if you go through a careful modulated practice of land reform, not the rhetoric we are getting now, this will continue past our lifetimes. There will be voices saying it is not happening fast enough, and then there is the issue of compensation.” One of the reasons, Southall said, is that it is not as simple as transforming the civil service, for instance, where you can measure demographic representivity. “With land, you can’t simply look at proportions, because different land has different value.” It speaks to the example of the leafy suburban mansions and the poor workforce. “What about commercial agriculture, food production and security? You have to be as much a philosopher as a land specialist.” Ultimately, says Southall, the land debate must progress, fairly and rationally: “The address of the land issue requires a meeting of minds … humility and willingness to listen to competing perspectives should be at a premium.” And for each person to understand that home and country are as much a part of us as we are of it. C

HOW COULD SOUTH AFRICA DEAL WITH THE LAND DEBATE? Wits Professor of Sociology Roger Southall says a precarious balance of three approaches should be considered. “One is not more important than the other, but one might have greater political impact than the other.” • The instrumental approach, which argues its case upon both ideological and constitutional grounds. There is the argument that the ANC’s move to land appropriation without compensation represents a fundamental undermining of property rights, to the extent that it might even threaten the ownership rights of ordinary house-owners in urban areas. This might derail President Cyril Ramaphosa’s highly touted goal of attracting $100b in investment over the next five years. While the Constitution already allows for the expropriation of property by the state for public interest purposes, for instance on farmland, appropriation without compensation would mean farmers would disengage on their properties, which is a major threat to both jobs and economic growth. • The functionalist approach, which shows a desperate hunger for land among impoverished black poor people. “This needs to be addressed on the grounds of need and political stability. Economically, the argument is that, while the role of commercial agriculture as the principal producer of the nation’s food supply and of significant exports needs to be recognised, there are many areas where farming could be successfully undertaken by black farmers, given the right support.” Southall says this has been proven by history, and could redress how white commercial agriculture “was systematically advantaged by the state under white rule, and how prosperous black peasant communities, whose competitiveness constituted a threat to white farmers, were dispossessed.”

Gallo Images

in access to land and other resources is central to economic and social transformation in South Africa, simply offering people land is unlikely to achieve anyone’s long-term objectives.” This is where politics comes in to play.

•T he symbolic approach “appeals to the heart as much as to the head,” says Southall. “It harps on the point that land belongs to Africans. It was stolen by the colonialists and should be given back. The symbolic approach is overwhelmingly about African dignity. As such, it often involves notions of reparations. It tends to brush aside all the difficult policy issues about how land transfer should be managed, let alone the injustices which may be heaped upon white landowners who had nothing to do with the original theft of African land.”





The streets of Johannesburg are home to a variety of people trying to make a living from whatever the City provides. While we need to rethink how we include homeless people into our communities, Wits Health Sciences students are showing us how to care.


hen day gives way to night in Joburg, parts of the inner city become an enormous bedroom. Under bridges, on grassy verges, and against shuttered stores, hundreds of homeless people lay their heads. By dawn, the homeless retreat into the blur of a city too distracted to notice or to care much. It has made homelessness in the city conveniently invisible and smarter responses to homelessness a low priority. For Associate Professor Sarah Charlton in CUBES (the Centre for Urbanism and Built Environment Studies) in the Wits School of Architecture and Planning, smarter responses begin with understanding that homeless people are not a homogenous group. “There is high diversity in people who are homeless. Homeless people are not all the stereotypical drop-outs, vagrants without purpose, disconnected, on drugs, or criminals,” says Charlton. Many people who are “sleeping rough” have productive lives, says Charlton. It may be the piece-job construction workers who camp out in parks near their construction sites because their wages don’t cover commuting and accommodation costs. There are also the City’s recyclers, many of whom sleep near recycling depots.

Living Inside a Bridge – Alon Skuy

The opening is no bigger than a manhole. Beyond it lies the dark belly of one of the busiest highways in Johannesburg. Thousands of cars rush over it each day, completely oblivious of the world beneath them. Inside the highway, a small group of men and women live quietly, surfacing to work, wash and cook. When the sun sets, they retreat inside where candlelight flows through thin partitions separating a motley mix of lives. Posters of FHM beauties hang on the bare concrete, dusty Persian rugs are rolled out and people rest on mattresses. The highway never sleeps, it rumbles under the river of tyres. Inside it, live people. They are a group of around 20 people, living as a closed-off society. They decide who joins them and who doesn’t – some have lived inside the bridge for many years. Some work and others don’t. The police have raided them before. The people wash in the storm water drains and cook over wooden fires. They hail from different countries – South Africa, Zimbabwe, Lesotho, Kenya, and Malawi – but live as one, surviving in a world with no electricity, fresh water, or healthcare. There is limited air and precious heat during cold winters. Photo-journalist Alon Skuy is a Ruth First Fellow in the Wits Department of Journalism. Living Inside a Bridge was his exploration of unusual and challenging living spaces inhabited by people who use means other than electricity to survive.


“It is more complex than we realise and we need to learn to differentiate and understand individuals’ life circumstances,” says Charlton, whose work around homelessness and the city has shown that, in the last few years, homelessness is more directly embedded in the suburbs than on the City’s edges. It is the likes of informal shacks rising on open plots at the front door of the Oppenheimer’s Brenthurst estate. It is Saturday morning Parkrunners literally running into people eking out a life in the corners of the parks. It is homeless people seeking shelter in the storm water drains that mark the still-serviced areas of the City. It is the kind of collision that makes for WhatsApp group noise, and takes up column-centimetres of rage and frustration in local newspapers. What it doesn’t do, however, is advance thinking that allows more multi-pronged solutions to take root in the City’s response to urban homelessness. While Charlton doesn’t have a magic wand for easy fixes, she says there are initiatives that can shift mind-sets and build a more resilient Joburg in the long-term. “We can start by thinking about what wages we pay people, and whether these cover transport and accommodation costs; or why the focus remains fixed on property owners’ rights and keeping parks pristine without also finding ways to support poorer people in these areas. It enforces inequality and exclusivity in the City,” she says.



Charlton notes positive policy shifts like the City of Johannesburg’s new inclusionary housing policy, adopted in February. It compels private property developers to reserve 30% of all new developments of 20 units or more for lower income earning buyers, or to meet their obligations through one of the other mechanisms. The policy is meant to integrate residents across income brackets, to close inequality gaps and encourage sharing of amenities, reduce commuting time and costs, and stimulate localised business and job opportunities. But the policy has been controversial. Private developers say it dents profit margins and discourages investment in residential property development. Others say it is a policy of political point scoring that will devalue suburban house prices overall and create more urban slums. Charlton counters, “We are not talking about RDP [Reconstruction and Development] housing. We are talking about more options for lower- and middle-class income earners. It would be the nurse who is looking after you in the private hospital, for instance. Why would she be good enough to help you recover, but not good enough to be your neighbour?”


For Wits PhD candidate Simon Mayson, the creation of a wellbeing economy holds answers to responding to homelessness in the City. Mayson says this includes addressing spatial inequality in Joburg. “For many people who own big properties, their homes are unmanageable in terms of maintenance, security and upkeep. It is also wasteful. That extra space could be freed up for


alternative housing options,” he says. Mayson says a shift to focusing on wellbeing over personal profit and introducing localised, community-oriented solutions can make small initiatives massively powerful. It can help those sleeping rough and it can leave people who have wealth and privilege happier through sharing meaningfully. In the suburb of Lorentzville in Joburg East, where Mayson lives, works and conducts research, he has introduced ideas like developing a localised skills directory and leveraging local assets that include established businesses and anchor developments. He bridges these to create access to markets for jobseekers and to competitively priced supply of labour, skills and products for local businesses.

HOMELESS, HEALTH, ID, DIGNITY For Trinity Health Services and the Holy Trinity Catholic Church, merging strengths and collaboration has also helped them make the most impact for the homeless community on Wits’ doorstep. Trinity Health Services began in 2004 when Wits health sciences students approached the Holy Trinity Church about running a health service parallel to the Church’s soup kitchen and regular religious services. Deanne Johnstone, Lecturer in the Department of Pharmacy and Pharmacology at Wits, says the collaboration was a first of its kind. “It illustrates religion and medical science working together, pointing to a new direction for churches involved in healthcare in an era where the older paradigms are no longer possible,” says Johnstone. Smarter solutions and symbiotic thinking allow for ways to optimise shrinking resources even as needs grow and competing agendas keep pulling people apart.

“There is high diversity in people who are homeless. Homeless people are not all the stereotypical dropouts, vagrants without purpose, disconnected or are on drugs, or are criminals.” Johnstone says that the student-driven and run Trinity Health Services programme is both a valuable learning experience and a lesson in service and recognising the needs of the most vulnerable in society. Father Nobert Munekani of the Holy Trinity Church says they see around 80 people every day at their daily soup kitchen and this swells to 300 on clinic days, when the Church runs two soup kitchens.

Munekani says it is important to remember that the needs of homeless people vary, even as they may have a basic need to fill a grumbling tummy or treat a cough. “Some people come from the rural areas, some from other countries. They are on the streets for different reasons. We have even helped some people go home, but they find their way back to Joburg in a few weeks,” says Munekani. He says some of the greatest needs are helping homeless people to apply for identity documents and providing technical skills training so people can become more employable. Munekani says homeless people have also asked for Bibles. This was unexpected, but prompted the Church to launch its “Come home to Jesus” group. The Trinity Health Services clinic and pharmacy operates from the Church’s basement floors every second Monday of the month. Volunteers like fifth-year medical student Caitlin Johnstone say homeless people battle most with access to medical treatment in the City. “There is still a lot of stigma around homeless people and it makes it easy to dismiss them. But we’ve met people who have degrees and families and they’ve just fallen on hard times,” she says. Caitlin says the volunteer clinic “re-ignited the spark” of studying medicine for her when she signed up in in her secondyear. The volunteers are aiming now to involve more student volunteers from other disciplines, including dentistry, psychology and social work. It is aiming for holistic care. “Volunteering at the clinic helps you to really see people, to have empathy. Sometimes you may just be treating a cold but that person is benefitting from being seen, being looked after and being acknowledged,” she says. C




Nowhere can one get a better understanding of Johannesburg’s challenges, opportunities and intricacies, than in the cultural microcosm that is Orange Grove. 26


f one aims to have a loose understanding of Johannesburg as a whole, 10th Street in Orange Grove is one of its microcosms that offers some insight. On the corner of 10th Street and Louis Botha Avenue, there is a charismatic Ethiopian church in a run-down building and a makeshift hair salon that shares premises with a junk shop. The corner has seen the remains of burning detritus as residents protested against the City’s lack of progress in allocating low-cost housing to them. Tenth Street and Louis Botha Avenue is also a busy one-way traffic intersection leading the BMW X5s and other expensive cars east to the richer residential area of Linksfield, to one of Johannesburg’s top private hospitals, and an abundance of “good” schools. On the opposite end of the street, which ends in a cul-de-sac and which is closest to affluent Norwood, there’s a Shul, a religious Jewish school and a Seventh-Day Adventist Church. In this cul-desac, there are a mixture of high walls with electric fencing, and low palisade fences – the latter amenable to neighbours enjoying late afternoon conversations, usually complaining of the washed-down rubbish from Louis Botha Avenue’s many informal activities after a thunderstorm, and the stray cat that causes havoc with the other beloved pets on the block.


The history of Louis Botha Avenue, Orange Grove and Norwood is inextricable from the history and development of Johannesburg. Alexandra Appelbaum, as a researcher in the South African Research Chair in Spatial Analysis and City Planning (SA&CP) at Wits noted in her report, Contestation, transformation and competing visions: a study of Orange Grove and Norwood that, “Much of the story of Johannesburg unfolds along its central artery to Pretoria and in some of the City’s first suburbs … The inner city ‘decline’ of the late 1970s and 1980s was mirrored in Orange Grove, and saw Norwood – which had often been considered the less desirable, lower-class equivalent of Orange Grove – flourishing … This historical moment marks a significant shift in the area that continues to influence the contemporary neighbourhoods.” Orange Grove has always been a place where immigrants and migrants have settled. After the First World War in 1918, Italian women (who packed dynamite for the military in their home country) moved to South Africa to work in what was then a dynamite factory in nearby Modderfontein. Orange Grove thus came to be known as “Little Italy”, with Super Sconto deli on 5th Street and the Italian Machinery shop just opposite on Louis Botha Avenue as its relics. The suburb continues to be home to foreigners, mostly from other African countries. Appelbaum notes that 47% of the residents in Orange Grove who responded to an SA&CP survey listed their birthplaces as outside of South Africa.


The racial, ethnic and income diversity of Orange Grove, its proximity to a transport hub and to economic activity, and where residents mostly “work, sleep and play” is what the City of Johannesburg aims to emulate in other parts. While the area has experienced significant urban decay, there’s untapped potential for further social and economic vibrancy. Hence, Orange Grove was earmarked as a key node along the City’s Corridors of Freedom initiative, an ambitious project that, by 2057, would see Johannesburg transformed and apartheid-era spatial planning dismantled. The Corridors, which run along Empire-Perth Roads and Louis Botha Avenue, and within Turffontein, are designated for highdensity development, efficient and cheap transport systems, and

low-cost residential housing. The project is now known as TransitOriented Development Corridors (TOD). For 18 months, SA&CP at Wits University worked with collaborators Agence Française de Développement and the City of Johannesburg to imagine Johannesburg’s future. SA&CP Research Chair Professor Philip Harrison indicated that the collaboration brought together institutions around “a compelling agenda – that of building an urban future which meets the needs of and responds to the hopes of all segments of our society.” Thus, in August 2017, the Spatial Transformation Through Transit-Orientated Development in Johannesburg – Synthesis Report, and eight other related reports, were launched to assist the City. But while Orange Grove is already representative of much of what TOD aims to achieve, the area is also emblematic of the deep tension and fractiousness present in Johannesburg and, perhaps, South Africa as a whole. Indeed, Orange Grove is an area that has undergone considerable post-apartheid transformation and illustrates the complex effects of such a process. Appelbaum observes “the story of Orange Grove is one of many narratives and no single truth. Stakeholders in the area present their ‘truths’, which differ widely and cause conflict”.


Italian journalist, Italo Calvino (1923-1985) writes that “cities, like dreams, are made of desires and fears, even if the thread of their discourse is secret, their rules are absurd, their perspectives deceitful, and everything conceals something else”. Nowhere are these desires and fears more evident than at Paterson Park, which separates Orange Grove from the more affluent Norwood. Paterson Park is City-owned green space earmarked as a City-led affordable housing development. The Park is simultaneously the site of possibility, and a deadlock between conservative residents worried about property owners, and progressive forces attempting to find new ways to integrate the City. Low-cost housing and mixed-use facilities are under construction. Dr Margot Rubin, Editor and Lead Author of the Synthesis Report, says that the clashes over the development (between the residents’ associations and the City) highlight that the “spatial and economic issues bedevilling Johannesburg are entrenched” and will be hard to shift. Yet, Paterson Park remains a significant opportunity for enhancing social and community infrastructure in the area and Johannesburg as a whole. The TOD plan envisages a “safe neighbourhood” with pedestrian and cycling paths, attractive streetscapes, calm traffic flows, mixed-use developments that encourage economic development, and a wide range of accommodation and transport options. The City of Johannesburg envisions “integrated spaces with rich and poor, black and white living side by side”. This could happen if we let go of trying to find a binding narrative in Orange Grove. Appelbaum’s report notes that, “The ongoing insistence of all stakeholders that a single truth is found is counterproductive; rather, the many truths, narratives and realities need to be understood and acknowledged before any accord will be reached in the area”. C * Beth Amato is a resident of 10th Street, Orange Grove. Appelbaum A (2016) “Contestation, Transformation and Competing Visions: a study of Orange Grove and Norwood”. Report 7. Spatial Transformation through Transit-Oriented Development in Johannesburg Research Report Series. South African Research Chair in Spatial Analysis and City Planning. University of the Witwatersrand: Johannesburg.


COMING HOME TO SOUTH AFRICA When does a house become home? Foreigners, no matter how long they have stayed in a country, are often not afforded the same rights as those born locally. How do we address this global human rights issue?



hortly before Human Rights Day this year, the Gauteng Department of Health released a circular in which it sought to limit foreign nationals’ access to healthcare services by requiring them to pay for all services. The circular, decried as an outrageous human rights violation – particularly in light of South Africa’s progressive Constitution – has since been rescinded, but experts aren’t convinced that this is the end of the matter. For some people, their house will never quite be home, if policy doesn’t change for the better.


The UCL-Lancet Commission on Migration & Health, published in December 2018, revealed that harmful and unfounded myths about migrants prevail that are used to justify policies of exclusion. The Commission is the result of a two-year project led by 20 experts from 13 countries and includes insights from the Medical Research Council (MRC)/Wits Agincourt Unit in the Wits School of Public Health. One of the most prevalent and harmful myths about migrants is that they bring disease into a host country and burden its healthcare systems. However, the Commission shows there is no systematic association between migration and the importation of


infectious diseases. International migrants in high-income countries also have lower rates of mortality compared to general populations across the majority of disease categories. In addition, rather than being a burden, migrants are more likely to bolster services by providing medical care, teaching children, caring for older people, and supporting understaffed services – in the UK, 37% of doctors received their medical qualification in another country. The myth that migrants are an economic and job-drain on a country is also unfounded. In fact, the Commission showed migration contributes to global wealth distribution. Migrants sent an estimated $613b to their families of origin in 2017, three quarters of which were to low- and middle-income countries. This is an amount three times larger than official development assistance. In advanced economies, each 1% increase in migrants in the adult population increases the gross domestic product per person by up to 2%.


Sadly, these facts remain largely ignored when they don’t fit political rhetoric, says Associate Professor Jo Vearey, Director of the African Centre for Migration and Society (ACMS) at Wits and Vice-Chair of the global Migration, Health, and Development


The number of undocumented migrants in South Africa, for example, was estimated as high as 11 million by national police commissioner, Khehla Sitole, in 2018. But Vearey and most other experts put this number at between three to four million documented and undocumented migrants. Even if the politically quoted figures included internal migrants, the numbers don’t make sense. Dr Carren Ginsburg, Researcher in the MRC/Wits Agincourt Unit in the School of Public Health, says that based on data from the latest population census in 2011, 5.3% of the South African population (just under 2.7 million people) had migrated within the country’s borders in the preceding fiveyear period, while only 1,5% had migrated into South Africa from destinations outside the country (just over 740 000 people). The University College London-Lancet Commission shows that, worldwide, only a quarter of all migrants (an estimated 258 million people) are international migrants. In the past three decades, the number of international migrants as a percentage of the world’s population has changed very little – from 2.9% in 1990 to 3.4% in 2017. Approximately 65% of international migrants are labour migrants and a much smaller proportion are refugees and asylum seekers. The South African Constitution does not afford rights only to citizens – South Africa belongs to all who live in it. The Constitution provides for the right to access healthcare services and that no one may be denied emergency medical treatment. Furthermore, the National Health Act specifically provides that, regardless of nationality, all persons are entitled to free primary healthcare services as long as they do not belong to medical schemes. Pregnant or lactating women and children below the age of six are entitled to free healthcare services. Yet even internal migrants are currently disadvantaged by the

lack of planning and systems surrounding migration, says Vearey. “Though non-nationals face additional challenges, the majority of South African migrants struggle to access healthcare services. There is no mandate or support for migration, whether international or internal. As an example, orders of antiretroviral drugs are currently based on head counts for the previous month. But when internal labour migrants return home over Christmas and Easter, say from Gauteng to Limpopo, no provision is made for them. South Africa will struggle to meet its targets in treating HIV, malaria and TB if these treatment gaps aren’t addressed.” Ginsburg agrees. “Migration is an important means of creating wealth in rural areas. Our research in Bushbuckridge, Mpumalanga, shows that young adults will work for a number of years in Gauteng, while periodically going home to their original households. They send money to these households and there remains a strong interconnectedness between family members. Yet they may encounter difficulty accessing healthcare services in Gauteng, compromising their health. Better monitoring and planning are essential.”


Professor Loren Landau, South African Research Chair in Human Mobility and the Politics of Difference at the ACMS and formerly a member of the South African Immigration Advisory Board, says mobility should be seen as a move towards empowerment – the opposite of the current way of thinking. “People who move do so in the hopes of improving life for themselves and others. Where communities have embraced migration as a form of development and diversification, the responses can be positive on aggregate. However, we have increasingly seen – in South Africa and elsewhere – that outsiders are used as a scapegoat to further personal economic and political ends. It is fear and those who play on it that accounts for the continuation of unfounded myths.” By focusing on migrants as the source of South Africa’s very real economic and health challenges, we are distracting ourselves from solutions that could benefit everyone, he adds. “Migrants represent a very small percentage of the population. If they stopped coming, there would be little change in health, joblessness or crime. Stopping migration is not beneficial nor practical. Instead, policy makers must respond to people’s desire and mobility. Policy should be pragmatic, informed by humanity and an elaborated understanding of our collective self-interest.” C

“migration contributes to global wealth distribution”

ATTITUDES ON THE GROUND The Gauteng City-Region Observatory (GCRO), an institutional collaboration between Wits, the University of Johannesburg and the Gauteng Provincial Government, asked over 30 000 respondents about their attitudes towards various societal aspects, including migration. The results were released in a research report entitled Social cohesion in Gauteng in February 2019. Respondents from households with a monthly income of more than R38 400 were the least likely to feel that foreigners must be sent home (17%), while those with a monthly income of less than R1 600 were the most likely to feel that foreigners must be sent home (26%). This suggests that reducing socioeconomic inequality could promote greater social cohesion, says the report.


Paul Weinburg

Research Initiative (MHADRI). “Migrants are often used as scapegoats for the poor functioning of public systems such as healthcare systems and in the national elections we’re seeing more use of this negative language linked to campaigning. This is not only a South African phenomenon. Moral panic surrounding the movement of people across borders is a global problem. Yet there is no evidence that foreign nationals bring disease, nor that they displace people from labour markets – in fact, they’re likely to create jobs,” says Vearey. Instead, unfounded or inflated statistics are often quoted.

AT HOME IN YOUR SKIN For a million bucks, would you change your gender?




f you grew up accepting the gender marked down on your birth certificate, you’re cisgender and you’ve probably never given this question much thought. “I would have answered yes to that question and I would have done it for free – but a million bucks would have been nice too,” says Dr B Camminga, with a laugh. Camminga, who is a postdoctoral researcher at the African Centre for Migration and Society (ACMS) at Wits, likes to pose the gender question to their* students as a way to get directly to the heart of how skewed the modern world is towards the binary of “he” and “she”. It makes for a tight squeeze in the heterosexual box, but it is because a dominant heteronormative world has never had to reflect long enough to make more room for anything else. Camminga says the world, framed in this way, presents huge challenges for transgender people, and in particular for African transgender asylum seekers arriving at South Africa’s borders. It prompted Camminga to write Transgender refugees and the imagined South Africa – bodies over borders and borders over bodies, which was published as part of the Global Queer Politics Series by Palgrave MacMillan at the end of 2018. Camminga says that in the past few years there has been a growing number of “gender refugees” arriving at South Africa’s borders. Gender refugees, says Camminga, are people leaving their homes, fleeing persecution, violence and discrimination on the grounds of their gender identity or expression. “Being transgender, you’re already on society’s margins, but being trans and being African and being an African asylum seeker, you are even more denigrated,” they say. Author Dr GG Bolich writes: “Despite a long history of transgender realities in Africa, many modern transgendered people there experience well-warranted fear because of hostility in their families, tribes, or nations … Much of this modern hostile response has been placed on


the influence of European culture, both because of a colonial past and because of contemporary pressure, or the influence of foreign religions.” It explains why some transgender people are forced to leave their home country and to make real what Camminga writes about in their book of transgender “being predicated on movement and, as an analytical category, encompasses concepts such as border, imaginaries and home(s). It is at once about an individual’s physical body and the lived experience of the everyday … As a term, it is also a site of travel, accruing baggage and meaning through its traversing of countries, cultures and varied institutional frameworks”. Gender refugees cross borders into South Africa with hopes of better opportunities, of freedom, of maybe finding a place they can call home. “I met someone who just arrived with a bag full of dresses because she wanted the freedom to wear them in public,” says Camminga. Even though South Africa is not always the first migration choice, it is a steppingstone out of a home country towards destinations in Europe or North America. The migration to South Africa from other African countries frames Camminga’s research through a fresh lens of African perspectives, not those imported from the Global North. But South Africa is often more of a rude awakening than a better life for asylum seekers. Camminga says transgender people are forced to disguise or lie about their identity or to “finesse the system” to bypass bureaucratic hurdles. Home Affairs, Camminga says, is ironically anything but homely. “You have to first get inside a refugee reception centre – you are literally an outsider trying to get in and the queues are split into one for men and one for women. If a trans woman dresses as a woman, men may pull her out and accuse her of trying to jump the queue. Should she dress as a man and get inside the building dressed as a man, she may be confronted by an official who is ill-informed and untrained who asks, ‘if you are a trans

woman, why aren’t you dressed like one?’” says Camminga. Some transgender people may choose to seek affirming healthcare in South Africa are also often subjected to prejudice and scorn. “It can be brutal. At some facilities people are expected to show up in the binary. One person I interviewed told me how they arrived at the hospital in a pantsuit and was told they weren’t dressed in a very womanly fashion,” says Camminga, whose research found that only about 4% of all asylum seekers are successful in gaining refugee status. It leaves asylum seekers in an in-between status, and transgender asylum seekers often resort to sex work and floating between cities while confronting the violent realities of homophobia, transphobia and xenophobia. There is, however, also personal resilience, agency and adaptability among those transgender people who end up leaving their home countries. Making the leap is a resolution, arriving to survive in a South Africa that doesn’t tick the boxes for “safe”, never mind welcoming, takes certain courage. “Some cisgender people react out of fear or aggression towards transgender people, but we should be having new conversations about gender. Just as in the seventies, people started to shift their thinking that homosexuality was not a condition or something that needed diagnosis and also realising that gays and lesbians were not going away,” says Camminga. Trans is a possibility and a presence. It is what South Africa needs to make room for to keep the country from being a home for the darkest forms of bigotry with a Constitution that’s reduced to a beautiful mirage. C *The pronoun “they” is used to describe people who "identify as neither male nor female." It is increasingly common for people who have a non-binary gender identity to use they/them as their pronoun. Read more here:

BODIES IN BATHROOMS Even universal symbols have to adapt with the times, and the stick figure pictograms of a man and woman, indicating gendered toilets, are now joined by a third pictogram for gender neutral toilets. Tish Lumos, Programme Coordinator of Wits’ Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity Advocacy Programmes, says the introduction of gender-neutral toilets in 2016 has been about creating safe spaces and making transgender people feel more at home at their University. It has also been a great opportunity for the University community to think creatively about the design of new symbols. “We now have over 50 gender-neutral toilets on campus and they are spaces where transgender people don’t need to feel conspicuous or threatened. The icon we’ve gone with is a third stick figure without a bottom half,” says Lumos. Popular gender neutral signs around the world include the third pictogram as an amalgam of the stick figures of a man and a woman or a combination of the traditional Mars and Venus symbols and a third symbol. Lumos says: “When we introduced the gender neutral toilets, we imagined we might have some hostility but in fact the students have been very chilled about it.” The Wits Transformation and Employment Equity Office has embarked on a toilet etiquette campaign that focusses on tolerance and respect, ways to report discrimination, homophobia and transphobia, and where to find support. It’s backed up by the University’s SafeZones@Wits programme that’s been in operation since 2011. The programme is about creating environments that are accepting and welcoming of LGBTIAQ+ people through training volunteers who become “allies” who are already part of the staff or student body. “People are more likely to approach someone they’ve seen in class than walk into an office. The volunteers are trained to record all incidents and they make themselves known through stickers they can leave in public spaces, the lanyards they wear and their details are on our website,” says Lumos. There are currently 200 trained Wits allies.



edical entomologist, science prodigy, and Associate Professor of Public Health at Wits University, Fredros Okumu, was 18-years-old when he was recruited as live mosquito bait as part of a PhD research experiment. Inside that tent waiting for the insanity-invoking buzz near his ears, Okumu’s fate was sealed: he’d work tirelessly during his academic career to find a solution to one of humankind’s most vexing public health problems in Africa – the deaths caused by malaria. His initial focus was inside the home: he simulated the attractive qualities of human beings to mosquitoes (such as blood, scent and other particular biological markers) in a “decoy site”, which contained pathogenic fungi to kill the flying critters. This complemented other interventions like nets and insecticides. In 2009, his team developed location models to determine where best to place mosquito decoy devices using digital geographical information systems and participatory community mapping. Okumu’s specialisations are applied parasitology and the combined disciplines of geo-information science, earth observation and environmental modelling. He has recently looked at the quality of rural and urban housing in sub-Saharan Africa as an opportunity to accelerate the efforts against combatting malaria and other significant public health concerns in the region. Okumu co-authored a ground-breaking paper entitled Mapping changes in housing in sub-Saharan Africa from 2000-2015 in the international science journal Nature, which is the first accurate approximation of urban and rural housing quality in the region.


The study is innovative in a number of ways, notably because it built a machine-learning model to fill in data gaps, much like a jigsaw puzzle. To Okumu’s knowledge, this study is the first to apply a geostatistical modelling approach to measure housing conditions in sub-Saharan Africa. The data also reveal the differences in each country’s adoption of safe housing. Said Okumu, “The quality of housing determines the risk of diseases such as malaria, respiratory infections and diarrhoeal disease. We knew anecdotally that African housing is changing, but until now this trend had not been captured on a wide scale.” The study was led by the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, the Imperial College London, and the Malaria Atlas Project at the University of Oxford. The study quantified changes in housing in the region using national survey (data was gleaned from 661 945 households in 31 countries) within a geostatistical framework. A marked transformation in the quality of housing was observed, which bodes well for the attainment of Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 11 – the achievement of sustainable cities and communities. Adequate housing, said lead author of the study Dr Lucy Tusting, is a human right and will become more urgent as Africa’s population will double by 2050. By then, UNICEF predicts, one in four people on Earth will be African with the population likely to rise from 1.2-billion to 2.5-billion.


Housing was considered improved using the United Nations standards: safe water and sanitation, an adequate living area, and durable construction (no gaps in walls, eaves or doors). But, while the study shows that improved housing has doubled between the years 2000 and 2015 (from 11% to 23%), 53-million urban Africans continue to live in slum conditions. Adequate water and sanitation are by far the greatest challenges in the region. The findings highlighted poor sanitation as commonplace, which is one of the chief reasons that hold back progress to improve living


HOW AFRICAN HOMES IMPACT HEALTH A study thought to be the first to use machinelearning to measure housing conditions in sub-Saharan Africa has found housing quality transformed but the persistence of slum conditions compromise health. BETH AMATO

conditions. Alongside SDG 11 is the need to prioritise SDG 6 – clean water and sanitation. “The two are intrinsically linked,” said Okumu. The most improved housing was seen in Botswana, Gabon and Zimbabwe. The Democratic Republic of Congo, Eritrea, and South Sudan had the worst housing conditions. Notably, Africans are self-financing home improvements. “In general, the housing improvements are driven by people’s own household incomes, which means that the poorest households are left behind,” said Okumu. Because changes are linked to economic factors, the poorest communities need support for housing improvements. “Legal structures combined with subsidies on construction materials and training for local construction workers are potential options,” he added.


For the goal of universal access to safe, adequate and affordable housing to be achieved, reliable baseline data, such as what the study provides, is critical. Measurements (prior to the release of the study) of housing conditions in Africa were limited to specific years and urban areas only. “If we were to trace the trends beyond 2015, it is unlikely that the 2030 target will be achieved. However, these findings still provide a great demonstration that a deliberate effort could accelerate these trends,” said Okumu. The poorest households thus need government support, particularly around improved drinking water and sanitation. Okumu said, “In addition, it is vital that building regulations and housing programmes are cognisant of the design features that can safeguard health. For example, screening and improving houses has been shown to be an effective means of reducing the transmission of mosquito-borne diseases such as malaria, while reducing standing water in urban environments can reduce the presence of mosquitoes that transmit dengue, chikungunya, yellow fever and the Zika virus. It is vital that health specialists work closely with urban planners, engineers and governments to help ‘build out’ these diseases across Africa.” Okumu’s and Tusting’s next step is to understand the implications of the changes in housing for health in sub-Saharan Africa. Their baseline data can be used by researchers working to establish housing trends and their study can provide the technical documentation needed for policy makers to improve housing. In addition, Okumu and the authors’ seminal research is also important to prepare adequately for climate change in Africa. The UN posits that sub-Saharan Africa (which has already experienced more frequent climate change extremes) will have longer and more frequent heat waves. Climate change is already considered a threat multiplier, exacerbating existing problems.

Jakob Knudsen


The UN-Habitat notes that cities in particular are facing unprecedented demographic, environmental, economic, spatial and social challenges and that urbanisation has put these into relief. Six out of 10 people will live in cities by 2030, with 90% of this growth occurring in Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean. Despite the Earth heating up, cities are ill-prepared to cope. Reasons for this include a lack of city policies and the existence of regulations on urban planning and the environment which haven’t been adjusted to manage climate change. Okumu and Tusting have suggested that a multi-sectoral approach is needed to improve health and wellbeing across the continent and to build resilience against threats such as climate change. “Government agencies in housing, financing, environment, education and health can join hands in tackling this challenge,” said Okumu. C



DECOLONISING HOUSES A Wits study is the first to look at transforming Victorian/Edwardian bungalows into urban compounds in Yeoville and Rosettenville. DELIA DU TOIT


rive through Melville, Parktown and Yeoville – some of Johannesburg’s oldest suburbs – and you might notice a pattern: thousands of buildings in the same Victorian style dotted across the landscape. These near-identical residential buildings, in a bungalow architectural style, were constructed after the discovery of gold in the last years of the 19th Century and marked the first speculative mass housing model rolled out in the City for the working- and middle-class. The one-story houses were a cut-and-paste job; a similar size and lay-out, with pressed ceilings and columns on the front porch – an aspirational nod to the building style favoured by higher income groups in Britain. There are an estimated 30 000 of these houses on the northern side of the Johannesburg mining belt alone. And in some suburbs, these buildings, made in another time and for different people, have been re-appropriated by their inhabitants and given a distinctly African flavour. Kirsten Doermann, architect and Lecturer in the Wits School of Architecture and Planning, is studying this phenomenon in the suburbs of Yeoville and Rosettenville for her PhD. “We’re looking at the transformation of the Victorian/Edwardian bungalow into urban compounds in these suburbs,” says Doermann. “While several studies have been conducted on the transformation of modernist high-rise buildings, these bungalow compounds have also become a form of affordable co-housing in the African metropolis but have not been acknowledged or researched as such. Yet they’re potential role models for DIY-urbanism – especially in the inner city, where affordable housing is lacking.”


The people now inhabiting these houses in Yeoville and Rosettenville, whether locals or migrants, have imported these artefacts into their culture and creatively turned them into a working model for modern affordable housing. Some of the 500 square metre compounds house up to 40 people in 20 rooms, with two shared bathrooms and one kitchen. Others have 20 inhabitants in 10 rooms that have been converted into shared flatlets, with a total of five bathrooms and kitchenettes in the compound. Some have crèches operating from a detached room; others


have spaza shops facing the street, with advertisements for fish and chips or fruits and veg painted on the perimeter walls. In some cases, these outhouses were built to house domestic workers under the apartheid administration, without even a bathroom, and have now been reclaimed as entrepreneurial schemes that empower inhabitants. “The social networks that run through these spaces have continuously amazed me,” says Doermann. “Some of the leading characters in these unique narratives of everyday domesticity include a man who runs the compound owned by his father, renting out rooms while strategically living opposite the veranda to keep an eye on the goings-on in the compound.” Another resident, Mama Christie, has lived in the same bungalow for 14 years and has become famous for the dried fish she makes and sells from the communal kitchen. Besides the clever remodelling of these houses into dwellings for multiple families, they’ve become a means of job creation and are even quite lucrative for owners – one has just been put on the market for R1.2 million. Others have the potential of earning around R55 000 a month in rental income. However, the houses are difficult to purchase for those who can’t afford to pay in cash. Because structures have been added or remodelled without council approval throughout the years, often long before the current inhabitants or owners arrived, many don’t have the formal, approved building plans required when applying for a loan – even when the structures fall largely within the parameters of planning regulation.


Doermann’s research is crucial at present: with little available building space close to the inner city, where there is a desperate need for more housing, there have been talks of destroying the bungalows to make space for apartment buildings. But she believes this would be unnecessary and, in fact, a potential waste of resources. “The rule of law treats the mainly informal, organic appropriation of the building and its yard as a spatial illegality requiring replacement, rather than a cultural transformation with socioeconomic opportunities.” She hopes to propose the bungalow compounds as a 'toolbox' for modern urban living. She believes in the area so much that she’s recently bought a property in Yeoville with her partner. “As

Wits PhD candidate Kirsten Doermann proposes bungalow compounds as a toolbox for modern urban living. Brett Eloff


Bungalows are the predominant residential buildings in Yeoville, accounting for 62% of its overall fabric, complemented by blocks of flats. From the outside, the Victorian structures have remained largely intact over the last century and are still recognisable. Inside, however, things have changed. The suburb was a predominantly white middleclass area in the early 19th Century. Today, it has been almost entirely repopulated, and the population has more than doubled in the last 20 years. In 1951, for example, just over 17 000 people lived in the area – 76% of them white. Today, almost 37 000 people call Yeoville home – 95% of them black. Rosettenville, although slightly bigger, shows the same radical demographic shift.

Brett Eloff

an architect educated in Germany, I’ve always been fascinated by postcolonial narratives of merging cultures in Africa and did my postgraduate studies on the topic in Amsterdam. I first came here in 2000 as a visiting lecturer at the University of Cape Town, and then moved to Johannesburg for good in 2005.” She started working at Wits in 2008, when she noticed the bungalows and began her research on urban compounds, while teaching design. As productive forms of co-housing, the bungalows offer explicit opportunities considering the housing crisis in the inner city, she says. “They’re a smart model for low-cost housing in Johannesburg and could solve many urban planning problems, if only they could be recognised as such.” In official documentation from the City of Johannesburg, these bungalows are listed as one household without considering the multiple subdivisions. This places them in a low-density dwelling category with one to three members per household, when they’re actually medium- to high-density in low rise structures. “If the legalisation process is simplified and the infrastructure updated for the correct number of inhabitants, it could be a thriving neighbourhood,” says Doermann. C


BACKYARD NOT BACKWARD Backyard dwellings are a growing trend in a world where the need for accommodation is pressing. By saving money on their living spaces, many tenants are saving money for other investments.


ncedisi Magadla opens the gate to his home in extension 2, Ivory Park. As he makes his way to the front door his path meets with that of his neighbour who greets him politely before dashing towards the gate. The neighbour is one of many residing in the small stand designed for one house. The yard houses eight dwelling structures – one shack made from iron sheets in the front, known as umkhukhu in the townships, an RDP [Reconstruction and Development Programme] house in the middle, followed by four more imikhukhu at the back. Two


Wits School of Architecture and Planning


other cement block rooms complete the structure. Magadla occupies the RDP house, which he rents from the owner who lives elsewhere in the township. Magadla, who hails from the Eastern Cape, moved into this RDP house in January with his wife and three kids. The two girls are aged 22 and 11 years and the boy is 15-years-old. Prior to this, Magadla was a tenant for three years in a similar abode before things started going sour with his landlord, who refused to do maintenance. To Magadla, the place where they live is just a place where they shelter and can hardly be called home. It lacks privacy and space,

but it provides a place to lay their heads, he says. Magadla was forced to sell his freestanding home when the company where he worked as a furniture salesman ran into financial trouble in 2012. Sensing that there would be retrenchments, Magadla quickly took the decision to sell his home before the bank could repossess it, and lose a 10 year investment. “It was the best decision that I have ever made. I took the money and built a more beautiful home in the rural Eastern Cape,” says the manager of a busy bed shop. The Magadla family resides in what is a common setting in Gauteng townships. Many owners of formal dwellings have, without planning permission, constructed other dwellings on their properties in order to derive income from rental. Many are built with bricks and mortar, while others are more informal, according to a report produced by the Gauteng City-Region Observatory [GCRO]. A search on property sites shows that a 240 metre square stand with 13 backyard rooms can fetch as much as R18 000 per month in rental income. The same stand with a double storey block of flats can fetch double that amount. Magadla pays R3 200 for the twobedroom RDP house. Research by Professor Sarah Charlton in the Centre for Urbanism and Built Environment Studies [CUBES] at Wits also found that the biggest industry in townships is the renting of accommodation space.

A MARKET MEETING NEEDS Satellite imagery obtained by the GCRO shows that backyard structures have increased dramatically over the years. The major increases are in Mamelodi, Diepsloot and Tembisa; in others, such as Soshanguve, they have been associated with an expanding footprint of settlements. The report, titled Backyard and informal dwellings: 2001-2016 found that in 2001 there were far fewer backyard structures than dwellings in informal settlements. However, backyard dwellings grew at a much faster rate (205%) than informal settlement dwellings (51%) over the period, and by 2016 there were over 800 000 backyard dwellings in Gauteng compared to some 600 000 informal settlement dwellings. Tshwane experienced a remarkable 393% increase. Public opinion is divided on backyard rooms or rental rooms in townships. Some neighbours are the most vocal when it comes to these dwellings, fearing that these will decrease the value of their property. Some of the notable outcries have come from traditional suburbs where there’s a growing appetite to convert households into student accommodation and communes, where a single room costs anything between R2 800 and R3 500. There are also perceptions that the growing number of backyard rooms are a threat to government’s plan to provide decent housing for people and to eradicate overcrowding in township houses, in order to promote human dignity. The sheer number per stand is a hazard. Not so, says Margot Rubin, Senior Researcher in Spatial Analysis and City Planning located in the School of Architecture and Planning. “When we think about backyarding, we need to think about what is densification and what is overcrowding.” Densification is the optimum use of the land space and is more desirable than overcrowding. “Different areas have different abilities to support backyard rooms and densifications. Some of the older areas built under the apartheid have very high specifications in terms of the

“It allows the poor to leverage on their property, which is exactly what the government intends to achieve” infrastructure that was provided and can probably support high numbers of units,” explains Rubin. “Conversely, we have seen, for example, that the specifications on the new RDPs are quite small in terms of what they can support and can result in infrastructure overload.” However, this is no reason not to support backyarding. A more useful response would be to improve infrastructure in order to cope with the settlements. Where there has been overcrowding the government’s response was to de-densify the area, which Rubin feels is uninformed as evidenced in the Orlando de-densification programme which displaced over 70 000 people. In the early 2000s, government sought to deal with overcrowding in Orlando by dangling a carrot stick to landlords. In agreement with the landlords, government offered to replace the poor structures of existing backrooms with more formal and safety compliant cement structures. However, these were limited to two or three units per yard.

DENSIFICATION FOR DIGNITY De-densification is not the solution to the desperate need for accommodation, argues Rubin. There are social and economic factors driving backyarding. These include affordability and proximity to services, economic and educational opportunities, and they are considered relatively safe compared to informal settlements. In light of the national housing backlog, the model of backyard rental rooms should be supported according to Rubin. It meets the demand and also provides income to property owners, especially those who are unemployed, including RDP owners who draw public wrath for selling their homes in exchange for cash. “It allows the poor to leverage on their property which is exactly what the government intends to achieve with state-sponsored houses.” It’s not a perfect system, but it works in the absence of a national renting housing strategy. The market offers internal migrants from other provinces coming into Johannesburg an opportunity to save money, while they fulfil other family responsibilities and establish themselves. The desire to own a house is also strong among backyard dwellers. Tshilidzi Ranguvha works as a security guard and pays R300 in rent for a mkhukhu that he erected in the backyard after negotiations with the unemployed landlord who stays in the main house. The remainder of his income goes towards monthly expenses and the construction of his house in Venda. Similarly, Rose Nethononda, who earns ±R8 400 a month, is proud of her home back in Venda, which she says gives her great pride. C



Sociable weavers are a rarity among birds. Not only do their massive nests endure for generations, but they house several other species as well. DELIA DU TOIT



t is six o’clock on a sweltering afternoon in the Kalahari desert and the mercury is still hovering around 40 degrees Celsius. The arid landscape seems empty, save for a few bushes and camelthorn trees in the distance. On some of the trees, what appears to be half-constructed thatched roofs weigh down the dry branches. Get closer to these trees, and a wondrous hub of life reveals itself. The thatch-like canopies are massive nests created by sociable weavers (Philetairus socius), who, unlike their cousins commonly found in suburban gardens, don’t so much weave their nests as stack them, using whatever plant-like material is available in the dessicated landscape. Sociable weavers build large compound community nests – a rarity among birds – and these structures are the largest and possibly the most spectacular structures built by any bird. They are large enough to house over a hundred pairs of birds


spanning several generations at a time. And with so little shelter to be found in the harsh desert environment, not only weavers inhabit these nests …


Professor Graham Alexander, a Lecturer in Herpetology [amphibians and reptiles] and Head of the Herpetology Research Laboratory in the School of Animal, Plant and Environmental Sciences at Wits, became fascinated by the nests while studying reptiles in the desert. The nests are home to a number of other animal species. “The nests are really a micro-environment within a bigger environment. Because the huge nests provide shelter and serve as a buffer against the extreme outside temperatures, many species besides weavers have been known to inhabit the nests, from Kalahari tree skinks to barbets and even wasps. Besides that, the birds also bring so much energy to an area, attracting insects that

lizards, for example, feed on,” says Alexander. “Pygmy falcons will at times also inhabit up to four chambers in a nest and have an interesting relationship with the weavers. At first, it seemed like there was no benefit to the weavers, because the falcons take up so much space and will even prey on the weavers at times, even though their diet is mainly made up of lizards. Now we suspect the weavers may also gain some benefit from the falcons – likely, the falcons help deter snakes and other predators – but this hasn’t been confirmed in a study yet.” With such a buffet of animals in one location, the predators that the birds face from their perched utopia are ruthless. There are records of snakes living in the middle of the nests for up to a week, devastating the colony and eating nearly all the eggs and chicks.


This is where Alexander’s work and the world of the weavers cross paths. “One of my former PhD students who is now a collaborator, Bryan Maritz, came up with the idea of studying sociable weavers because of the massive impact snakes have on the birds and, as such, on the environment,” says Alexander. “Sociable weavers are called ecological engineers because, by making homes for themselves, they influence the ecosystem and benefit other animals. So anything that affects them has a much larger footprint on life in the desert.” For the study, the research team is implanting sensors and trackers in cobras and boomslang [tree snakes] and then releasing the snakes, recording their movements and body

“This is the first study in the southern hemisphere that will look at the impact of climate change on the ecosystem as a whole.” temperature every 30 minutes. “This lets us record when they’re above or underground, when they feed and shed, and where. Cold-blooded animals have a massive temperature shift during these activities because their bodies don’t self-regulate temperature. We’ll know when they’re in a cooler underground hiding place, when they’re basking in the sunlight, and even when they’re expending energy – raising their body temperature by hunting or feeding.” The researchers want to use the data to assess whether individual snakes depend on these nests for food. “We already know that some cobras visit the same nest frequently, retreating to a nearby hole and again visiting the nest at a later time, but we’re not sure if it is indeed the only source of food for some,” says Alexander.



The nests consist of separate chambers, each of which is occupied by a pair of birds, sometimes with their offspring. The entrances to the chambers can be seen from below, giving the structure a honeycomb-like appearance. The central chambers retain heat and are used for night time roosting, while the outer rooms are used for daytime shade. Large nesting colonies can span many generations and decades, all in the same nest – some have lasted close to a century. New chicks aren’t hatched on a strict seasonal cycle. Rather, females lay eggs shortly after rain. Lizards and other animals have been noted to also respond to the birds’ alarms when there’s a predator nearby. Sociable weavers eat grains and insects and have evolved to get all their dietary water from their food. Colony members will sometimes visit nearby nests but will return to the same nest every night.

The study is being conducted at Tswalu Kalahari, South Africa’s largest privately owned game reserve, which has an onsite research camp. It is the first study of its kind, and forms part of a much larger study called KEEP (Kala Endangered Ecosystem Project) that involves a team of 20 biologists from five universities – Wits, Unisa, and the Universities of Pretoria, Cape Town, and the Western Cape. Professor Andrea Fuller in the Wits School of Physiology leads KEEP and Alexander is Co-Principle Investigator. The project aims to study the way different animals deal with harsh environments such as deserts – either adapting to it (such as weavers building their nests), tolerating it (such as puff adders do by, at times, simply hiding in grass), or avoiding it (such as cobras going underground). The data will also be related to climate change to assess what effect it has on the ecosystem. “The study has just kicked off and though we’ve received vehicles from Suzuki, we’re still in desperate need of funding to keep it going. This is the first study in the southern hemisphere that will look at the impact of climate change on the ecosystem as a whole,” says Alexander. “The Kalahari is an ideal study site as climate change has occurred here almost twice as fast as in other parts of South Africa. One strong possibility is that some animals might change their activity schedules – I suspect cobras, for example, could start hunting earlier in the mornings and later in the afternoons to avoid the increased temperatures.” This, in turn, could influence other animals and the way they live. Only time will tell what impact the world’s rapidly changing climate will have on the desert and its inhabitants. But one thing is certain: many of them will still live in communal bliss with sociable weavers. C



Q&A: ARE ECOBRICKS THE ANSWER TO PLASTIC POLLUTION? The use of single-use plastics in households has become a pariah. Many people are trying to reduce the use of singleuse plastics or to recycle them. One such innovation is creating “ecobricks” – filling empty two-litre plastic bottles with single-use plastics over time – and delivering these to collection points for use in constructing low-cost houses. Schalk Mouton asks Professor Herman Potgieter, the Head of the School of Chemical and Metallurgical Engineering, if ecobricks are really a good idea.


Ecobricks: Take an empty two-litre plastic bottle. Fill it with all your single-use plastics over time. Make sure to compact the plastics properly. When full, deliver at a collection spot. These “ecobricks” will then be used to build lowcost houses.

ARE THESE PLASTIC-BASED ECOBRICKS SAFE FOR THE ENVIRONMENT? As long as the plastic keeps its original form, yes. However, plastics are not biodegradable and all plastics – no matter what form or shape they are in – are made up of small, granular pieces that are between 5 to 10 micron (0.005 to 0.01 mm) large, and will eventually break down to that size. Most plastics are also sensitive to ultraviolet light and will break down when exposed to the sun. So no, plastic is not an ideal building material. WHAT HAPPENS TO PLASTICS WHEN THEY BREAK DOWN OVER A NUMBER OF YEARS? Plastics take very long to break down and they usually don’t break down into liquid form but as smaller solids, called microplastics. Nobody really knows how long it takes for plastic to break down into its chemical compounds – it could be hundreds or thousands of years. Micro-plastics can cause tremendous environmental problems. HOW DO THESE PLASTICS AFFECT THE ENVIRONMENT IN THE LONG-RUN? Plastics have a devastating effect on the fauna of the planet’s oceans. These small plastic particles can cause havoc for animals such as whales and fish. In one instance, a dead fish was found with 22kg of plastic in its stomach. CAN CHEMICALS THAT RESULT FROM PLASTIC BREAKING DOWN AFFECT HUMAN, ANIMAL OR PLAN HEALTH? Not really, but plastics and micro-plastics of any size can pose a threat to living organisms. In the sea, they can block whales’ digestive tracts, entangle sea turtles, and affect the photosynthesis of algae. They’re also a problem in rivers and fresh water lakes. It could be that when you drink water out of a plastic bottle, you are ingesting micro-plastics. Nobody really knows what the consequences are for the health of the consumer. It’s best to take no chances – don’t drink out

Left: Cleaning crew picks up plastics from debris in the harbour after massive flooding in Durban, South Africa, April 24, 2019. REUTERS/Rogan Ward

of plastic bottles. Micro-plastics and microbeads (in various commercial products such as facewash and tooth paste) can be hazardous in the long term and microbeads have been banned in various products. WHAT IS A BETTER WAY TO DISPOSE OF PLASTICS IN AN ENVIRONMENTALLY FRIENDLY MANNER? Ecobricks are an example of low-grade recycling, which is better than no recycling. High-grade recycling refers to recycling of the same product, that is, recycling plastic bottles to be reused as plastic bottles. Another solution is to make products from biodegradable bioplastics. Yet another solution is just not to use plastic products where there are alternatives. At the Wits School of Chemical and Metallurgical Engineering, we are researching ways to break plastics down – through the process of purolisis – into its original forms, such as liquid carbohydrates and oils. We can then use these products in generating energy for industrial processes. Through these processes, we can add much more value to the recycling of plastics in generating energy, which can lead to job creation, rather than merely using them in low-tech, low-cost recycling practices such as ecobricks. OVERALL, IS THE IDEA OF BUILDING HOUSES WITH PLASTIC BOTTLES A GOOD IDEA? There are better ways to dispose of plastics, or to recycle them. If you use these plastic bottles as “bricks”, you have to use something to bind them together. If you use normal cement, it has a quite a high pH of 12.5 (alkaline), so there is a possibility that there can be an interaction between the plastic and the cement, which can affect the structural integrity of the building. Plastics are also highly flammable. If a house built with plastic bottles catches fire, it will burn out of control, releasing highly toxic gasses such as dioxins, furans, mercury and polychlorinated biphenyls into the atmosphere. Further, burning of poly vinyl chloride liberates hazardous halogens and pollutes the air, the impact of which is climate change. C




The migrant labour system has intrinsically shaped family life in South Africa and family structures and the concept of “home” would be vastly different if it weren’t for this history.



n the M2 West highway between the Ruven and Heidelberg Road off-ramps, the original hostels for black mineworkers stand as monuments to migrant labour, which has shaped South Africa in ways we’re still trying to understand. At first glance, the hostels seem drab and derelict but evidence of domesticity – flapping laundry from windows and a lively soccer game on the fields adjacent to the buildings – suggests that life continues here in a new form and will continue to change as it always has in Johannesburg. The mine dumps, like the City’s custard-coloured waste mountains, lie beyond the hostels to the south. They too are being re-mined and repurposed.

“Where ‘home’ is, and where children live, may be a strategic decision made out of necessity.”

The Mandela Initiative (a multi-sector platform to investigate and develop strategies to overcome poverty and inequality) provides an historical overview of South Africa’s migrancy. Labour migration can be traced to the diamond rush of the 1800s and then the discovery of gold reefs on the Witwatersrand. Migrant labour was systemised by the state and the mining companies, and later became central to the apartheid government’s strategy to control black influx to “white” cities while ensuring a steady supply of labour. The single-sex compound or hostel system that provided accommodation for mainly black men was a key feature of migrant labour, resulting in the fragmenting of families, who stayed behind in what became “homelands”. Research by Wits Professor Dori Posel shows that the migrant labour force peaked in 1986 with an estimated 560 000 migrants on the mines. Many men found partners in the City and had children. “Dual household members and temporary migration have continued post-apartheid,” said Posel.

people move. South Africa has high internal migration rates and children are also mobile. Any picture we have of households is just a snapshot in time,” notes Hall. Many families are “stretched”, for example, with members moving between households that span urban and rural areas. It is not unusual for children to be raised by grandparents or other family members – kinship networks have historically played an important role in the care of children. The apartheid migrant labour system relied on this, and contemporary society continues to do so. The state acknowledges the diversity of family and care arrangements through its laws and, to some extent, in its policies. “The concept of a child’s family affiliation and belonging is even broader in customary law than in state law,” says Linda Richter, Distinguished Professor in the Department of Science and Technology/National Research Foundation Centre of Excellence in Human Development. But the state still tends to view the nuclear family (two biological parents and their children) as the standard. “Its privileged status is sometimes implicit in policies and the attitudes of those who implement policy.” The statistics in the Child Gauge highlight that 62% of children live in extended family households and that only 25% live in nuclear family households.




Katharine Hall, who co-edited the South African Child Gauge 2018: Children, Families and the State – Contestation and Collaboration, notes that the migrant labour system has intrinsically shaped family life, and that family structures and the concept of “home” would be vastly different if it weren’t for this history. “In particular, apartheid fragmented families and weakened communities,” says Hall. This was a result of legislation and forced removals, but was also achieved through structural impediments to family life. Many of these obstacles to family life persist today – shortages of adequate family accommodation in urban areas; the under-resourcing of schools, health services and childcare facilities; and the lack of infrastructure and economic opportunity in rural areas. Therefore where “home” is, and where children live, may be a strategic decision made out of necessity. Parents might work in cities and children live with grandmothers in rural areas because childcare support in urban areas is hard to come by and expensive. Children may move to live with other family later, especially if they are closer to good schools and other services. “Both families and households take diverse forms and household arrangements may change over time as

“When parents are absent from their children’s households, it does not mean they have abandoned their children. Ninety-three percent of children with an absent mother and 78% with an absent father are in contact with their parent. Around half of absent parents send some financial support for the child,” says Hall. The authors of the Child Gauge 2018 argue that that government policies and programmes should recognise the current (and changing) shape of families and support families to achieve the living arrangements that best meet their needs and their children’s needs. Programmes need to be sufficiently flexible to respond to diverse and changing forms as families strategise to maintain homesteads, to gain secure tenure at places of work, to care for children and other dependants, to further the education of their members, and to provide income. The Child Gauge 2018 offers insight into how policies and programmes can be structured and implemented. Ultimately, The Child Gauge 2018 attempts to help us break down the meta-narrative of the nuclear family and “home” as something bounded and static. Households are constantly made and remade in South Africa. C Links:


The feminisation of migration means moms move elsewhere in pursuit of opportunities to benefit their children back home, but maternal motion comes at a cost.


REFILWE MABULA istorically, men dominated migration patterns as they moved in search of employment opportunities to provide for their families. Patriarchal societies expected men to be the sole provider while women looked after homes and families. The feminisation of migration shows that women are migrating increasingly and providing as heads of households. This changing family dynamic has implications for ways of understanding motherhood and gender roles.


“Migration challenges normative ways of understanding parenting,” says Thulisile Zikhali, a PhD candidate in migration and displacement. Zikhali’s Master’s in the African Centre for Migration and Society (ACMS) at Wits explored the mothering experiences of Zimbabwean women living in Johannesburg who had to leave their children at home in Zimbabwe. Titled, Mothering from across the Limpopo: Experiences of Zimbabwean mothers living in Johannesburg, Zikhali’s study focused on migrant Zimbabwean single mothers in the informal labour sector in South Africa. These mothers endured various challenges but they all had a common goal – to invest in their children’s future and provide a decent life for their children. Zikhali found that the women were proud of their roles as mothers who could provide, but they had to deal with the emotional turmoil of separation from their children. Yet, despite the separation anxiety, self-blame for their absence, and feelings of estrangement from their children, being away from home was for the greater good. Dr Katherine Bain, Senior Lecturer in the Wits Psychology Department, says that regular telephonic contact and reassurance are the foundation of a good mother-child relationship. “As long as the children have a sense that their mother loves them and is available for them when they need her, a good relationship can be built. Regular telephone contact, even from age one, can help children feel held in mind by their mother. It


allows children to remember their mother’s voice and feel that their mother is interested and available, which is the basis for a nurturing, loving relationship,” says Bain.


The emotional hardships of the migrant mothers is exemplified in the Setswana idiom, Mmangwana o tshwara thipa ka fa bogaleng – the mother of a child holds the dagger on the sharper edge – describing the lengths to which mothers go for the wellbeing and protection of their children. For some migrant mothers working as sex workers, this means enduring victimisation, criminalisation, and dangerous working conditions. Dr Rebecca Walker, a postdoctoral fellow at ACMS, researched migrant mothers who sell sex in South Africa. “Many sex workers are the sole bread-winners for their families and criminalisation makes providing that much harder while doing nothing to combat exploitation in the industry. Sex workers are often labelled as ‘bad mothers’, yet the high levels of abuse and violence they face in order to provide, means that they are actually doing an incredible job as mothers in very difficult and often dangerous circumstances,” she says.


Zikhali found that the migration of women and mothers has redefined the concept of motherhood – providing for children is more important than being physically present. Yet, despite the financial contribution migrant mothers make to their households back in Zimbabwe, their ideal form of mothering was being personally present with their children back home. Thembi, a migrant mother from Zimbabwe, is not able to invest in her child’s future. She is unemployed and unable to provide for her child back home. She takes comfort in knowing that, despite her absence, her parents are providing a loving home for her daughter. Bain says that for children to develop along a healthy trajectory they need to feel safe, loved and reliably cared for – and this caregiver does not have to be the child’s mother. C

Lauren Mulligan




Technology and surveillance cause a sense of moral panic, but such scrutiny has the potential to enhance society. AMY MUSGRAVE


he tension between cyber phobia and cyber euphoria is one of the enduring questions of the technological age. And as the technologies of the modern world become more powerful – even more intrusive – the question becomes even sharper. “There is a global sense of moral panic about technology and surveillance,” says Keith Breckenridge, Deputy Director at the Wits Institute for Social and Economic Research (WISER) and a history professor with a special research interest in information systems and surveillance.


This sense of moral panic is surely linked to the way in which today’s technologies intersect – and even take over – the most personal spaces in our everyday lives. Many of the technologies that resulted from the second industrial revolution during the early 20th Century carried with them a limited invasive capacity. This was the case even when these innovations were developed for mass consumption, and thus entered our homes. So the motor car, the telephone, the television set and video recorder became commonplace in the developed world, but they each belonged to a single identifiable place in the home. The car in the garage, the TV and VCR in the lounge, the phone in the study. The user could leave them in their designated place. Technology had also not yet broken down the distinction between home and office, work and leisure, or personal and public.


Modern tech is different and this altered relationship in the interface of the individual-to-consumer technology is perhaps the main distinguishing feature of the Fourth Industrial Revolution – and arguably a key driver of 21st Century techno-anxiety. It does not help the sense of moral panic that consumer tech also obliterates the distinction in the use of the various devices we own and operate, thus increasing the individual’s dependence on these devices. TV and recorder, phone, messaging, watch and office capabilities can now be had from a single device. Home, work, and play now also exist seamlessly, challenging established notions of work/life balance.


But is the sense of dread justified? Breckenridge thinks this anxiety has a lot to do with the fear of surveillance, which

modern tech makes easier. Fear of surveillance is based on the notion that the state – or large corporations today – are gunning for maximum control of our personal information for dubious purposes. He cites the example of The Age of Surveillance Capitalism: The Fight for a Human Future at the New Frontier of Power, Shoshana Zuboff’s 2018 book about the quest by powerful corporations to predict and control our behaviour. “Zuboff vividly brings to life the consequences as surveillance capitalism advances from Silicon Valley into every economic sector.” But Breckenridge makes the point that states still collect more information than any corporation, despite the data collection and storage capacity of the mega corporations of the internet age. This is especially true of the developed ‘mega-states’, such as the US, China, and the European Union governments. And, he adds, there is nothing wrong with states collecting as much information as possible, even through surveillance systems. “Every just society has and relies upon vast systematic surveillance,” he says.


To understand and appreciate the point, it’s perhaps necessary to shift from the popular understanding of ‘surveillance’ – with its connotations of spying, intrusion and invasion of privacy – towards what Breckenridge means by it: the collection, collation and categorisation of citizens’ information to enable the state to deliver services efficiently. One example is the developed welfare states of the Scandinavian countries, where citizens are required to notify local authorities within a certain period of relevant changes in their personal and family circumstances, such as moving to a new house. This allows better state planning and services such as schooling and healthcare. The surveillance state, according to Breckenridge, works best as a trade-off between the individual and the state: you give the state maximum information about yourself and your personal circumstance, in return for socio-economic “goodies” (social grants, health, education, safety), in other words a state that takes care of basic needs. In the South African context, better surveillance of citizens’ movements and lives will allow the state to be more efficient at paying out social grants, as well as tracking how the money the state pays out is spent, which is critical knowledge to have when planning local economic development. C



THE MOUTH OF A SHARK Leaving Africa for Europe was a common sense decision for my parents – it was most likely a desire. My parents were born in Nigeria and relocated to England where I was born, raised and completed a significant part of my education.


he way in which Africa was returned to Africans and the subsequent relationship they have to their irrevocably altered home has resulted in a seemingly commonplace and natural desire for Africans to leave for the West. Reflecting on the question of home, British-Somalian poet, Warsan Shire, offers this: “No one leaves home unless home is the mouth of a shark”. The implications of my being an African researcher in Africa, but raised and educated in the Global North has caused me some anxiety. I am always fearful of being the middle class black woman making the odd excursion to rural areas for sound bites that enrich my academic career, yet create no real change for the women on whose life my work is supposedly focused.


Insights from African gender theorists were important considerations for me when conducting my Master’s research that centred on interviews with black South African women. These theorists have problematised the intellectual dislocation and geographical location of those who theorise the experiences of African women from a diasporan perspective (a diaspora being a scattered population whose origin lies in a separate geographic locale). They question how African gender theorists based in or raised in the West and with divergent socioeconomic positionalities to


the women they write about can really provide relevant research. Worse, and my own greatest fear, the work of African disaporan researchers is deemed patronising due to this issue of relevance. African diasporan researchers like me have to acknowledge that our experiences mean we are not simply African researchers theorising about our own people. Growing up or being educated abroad makes us different. To confront the issues of relevance, I designed my research so that the women I interviewed had protagonist status. I used a critical narrative interview style that allowed participants to tell and reflect on their own life stories. I also found keeping a reflexivity journal an important element of conducting research from a contested positionality. Reflexivity is a sociological concept referring to an act of self-reference where examination or action “bends back on”, refers to, and affects the entity instigating the action or examination. My journal included notes on the embarrassment I felt around asking for translations and the way that confessional narratives made me reflect on my own similar experiences. More generally, I have found the concept of a “pedagogy of discomfort”, suggested by education academics Megan Boler and Michalinos Zembylas, helpful. Encounters with issues relating to power, oppression and belonging that cause uneasiness are an opportunity to examine how one has learned to perceive themselves and others.

Lauren Mulligan


Anxiety about my positionality goes beyond my academic research. Home is a question that can brutally assault my sense of identity and belonging. Growing up in England, I was constantly confronted with the contested nature of home. I still am. At school, I learned about World War II and my peers saw images of the stories that they had heard from grandparents; stories that were foreign to me. Interestingly, later in life I would find out that as a resident of the Empire, my grandfather was stationed in Burma (modern day Myanmar) during World War II. Aunties would laugh at my inability to speak Igbo and gasp when I explained I had only visited Nigeria once as a toddler. There was always the question of whom I supported in the World Cup (it used to be Nigeria, but now I support Nigeria, England, and South Africa). And, of course, there was the hair… Do you do your braids every morning (all 80 of them!)? Do you wash your hair? Why can’t you get your hair wet? Can I touch your hair? Endless! Colonialism – the imposition, the extraction, the indignity – transformed home for so many of us. It led my parents to leave Nigeria in search of a better life. Whether England really offers a better life than Nigeria is a difficult question for colonial subjects, such as my parents, to answer. My father and I have been having the same argument over the last ten years about whether Africa’s underdevelopment is rooted in the African or the colonial abuse of Africa. The interlinking systems of racism, patriarchy, neocolonialism and capitalism have skewered perceptions in a way that makes England seem almost unquestionably better than Nigeria. In the words of my father, Nigeria is a “bloody nonsense country” and I am a fool for not cherishing being raised in a place “where things work”.


England being better than Nigeria ceases to become a question; it becomes a common sense understanding. The thing about common sense understandings – like the notion that England is better than Nigeria – is that they maintain unequal relationships of power. The consistent drain of Africans to Europe and North America serves the interests of the West. It is a loss to the continent and an increase in resources to imperial power. It means Africa will always be a problem in relation to the West. An important part of challenging power is unpacking taken-forgranted norms. This is why interrogating common sense is an important part of my research, and the reason my father and I will continue our argument for the next ten years. My upbringing has fed into my positionality. I am both Nigerian and British and both come with a range of associations that I embody. This is why the work of reflexivity is so important to me. Reflecting on the how, what and why of what I do will be a continuous part of my journey as a researcher. Positionalities are a crucial consideration when understanding and digesting research and African research is littered with thinkers who find home a complex question to answer. In reckoning with the task of decolonising knowledge, the issue of who writes and where they write from is something to which we must pay close attention. My dedication to the decolonisation project means continually grappling with the question of home. It means gazing into the mouth of a shark. C

“Home is a question that can brutally assault my sense of identity.”

Didi Allie




It is 5am. My cell phone alarm goes off. The Wifi-enabled cat had come in through her personally secured catdoor and had begun making pudding in my armpit from 4:40.


he cellphone immediately switches on the coffee maker. The cat wakes the dogs, who bark. The barks are real. Not digitised. I get up. Go to the loo. The toilet roll holder tells my local Spar that my toilet roll supplies are getting low. I have no idea who the toilet is talking to, and what it says to whomever listens. Breakfast. A good fry-up. Eggs, bacon, some veggies. The radio is on, but it realises that the music is not to my taste. Bieber. It switches automatically to a channel that plays music from back in the day when music was real. The sun rises. The curtains open and adjust automatically to keep the temperature optimal in the house. Both the temperature and CO2 levels are regulated by the central brain of the house. I’ve got a smart house. Even the refrigerator has enough computing power to send a space ship to the moon. I feel intimidated. The thing’s got only one job, and one job only! That is to keep my food fresh and cold, for crying in a bucket! Breakfast’s done. The coffee pot’s empty. The coffee machine tells my car I am ready to leave. The car switches itself on and starts heating my seat. On my way to work, the cameras watch me. When do I leave? Where do I go? Which route do I take? They’re mapping all my movements. I know the security firm buys the feed from Vumacam. That is all fine, but to whom else do they sell the feed? Who else is tracking my movements?


Hungry already and feeling like a snack. The local McDonalds knows this. They know I am in the area. They automatically get my order ready. It is based on my mood, my tastes, the time of day and year, and the length of my hair at the moment. All established from all kinds of data, from previous buying history, to scraping my Facebook account. It is all very smooth. The only problem is my food is cold when I arrive, due to a malfunctioning traffic light, which the City still doesn’t seem to be able to get right. It feels like I am trapped in a scene of the Ferris Beuller movie. It is all a dream of the (near) future. Or a nightmare? I am not sure. Where is this world going? What is happening to us? Never mind being replaced by robots in the workplace, I am becoming redundant in my own home! What in the world is wrong with closing the curtains yourself? Now I realise I sound quite negative about this new world into which we’re heading. I’m not really. There are many ways smart homes might enhance our lives and new technology does add value. For instance, when you are on holiday, a smart water geyser, linked to the internet can immediately inform you when there’s a problem, or that it has burst. It will immediately automatically switch off the water supply to prevent you from having a flooded house when you get back home, while at the same time contacting the insurance company to open a claim. Should your house be fitted with smart locks, you can even let in the plumber (whether a person or a drone) from where you are



lying on the beach with a tap on your cellphone, and the problem is fixed even before you get back from your relaxing holiday. But I think we need to consider what this high-tech future might mean to us as human beings. There are a number of challenges still to overcome with this new tech in our homes and societies. For instance, how do I know that my intelligent fridge (my fridge is more than smart – it can send stuff to the moon), is not busy rigging the upcoming elections, while placing my order for fresh marshmallow Easter eggs? And no, this is not as far-fetched as you think! Also, do we really need to be listened to, and watched constantly? By 2021, the virtual smart assistant – Amazon’s Alexa, Apple’s Siri Home, and so forth – market globally is expected to be worth $16b. These devices are built specifically to listen to you. In 2018, Alexa “inadvertently” recorded a private conversation between a couple and sent it in an email to a random contact. Amazon provided a highly unlikely scenario to explain away the incident. What does “inadvertently” mean? Why record a private conversation between two people in their own home in any case? This, to me, is reason to worry. The device is designed to listen to you all the time! Yes, you can ask it to change your radio station when you don’t want to listen to Bieber, but again, what is wrong with pressing a button? The smart home business is growing to staggering numbers at the moment. It really is the next best thing. Imagine what the iPhone did to our society in the past decade, then you can

“Never mind being replaced by robots in the workplace, I am becoming redundant in my own home! What in the world is wrong with closing the curtains yourself?” imagine what smart home systems and the Internet of Things will do to us in the next decade. No, I am not a sceptic. I just still like my privacy. Being the good introvert that I am, I like to be alone. I need to be alone. I don’t like to be watched and listened to all the time, nor have all my movements tracked. Yes, I would like to have all my groceries delivered to me every week, but I still actually enjoy the outing of going to the fresh grocer every now and then and actually chat to the people who supply my food. At least, they make me feel welcome, and relevant, when I pull out my credit card to pay … Call me old fashioned! C



Men’s Residences, 1929.



Before Wits became a University officially in 1922, it was the School of Mines. In 1911, the School acquired Sunnyside, Lord Milner’s former residence in Parktown. Sunnyside was to become a Wits student hostel and building began in 1920. College House, the men’s residence, was first occupied in 1921 while Dalrymple, the women’s residence, received its first students in 1922.


n 1928, hostels were allocated £60 000 of the £500 000 budget from the Government Building loans. In 1930, the women’s residence at Milner Park opened. That year, the student numbers totalled 1 609, rising to 2 544 by 1939. At that time, 53% of students came from Johannesburg, 11% from other Reef towns, and 18% from elsewhere in the Transvaal. The Orange Free State and Cape Provinces each provided 6% of the student population, and Natal, 3%. Out-of-town students were accommodated in three residences – College House, Dalrymple House for 150 men, and Sunnyside (later Isabel Dalrymple) for 100 women. The remaining students who didn’t live at home resided in training college residences, or in private lodgings in Berea, Auckland Park and Braamfontein, north of Jorissen Street. The majority of black students who came to Wits in the 1940s came from outside of Johannesburg. Initially, black students attending the Wits Medical School stayed at Wolhunter Native Hostel in Sophiatown, west of Johannesburg. In 1944, the Native Affairs Department agreed to £30 000 for construction of a residence for black medical students. The Douglas Smith House for Africans, located on Showground Road (today Enoch Sontonga Avenue) opened in 1946 for 30 men and six women – unique amongst Wits residences in that it accommodated both men and women. The University made no provision for Indian students despite their petitioning for a hostel in 1941. Indian students had to find lodgings in religious hostels or private households, predominantly in Fordsburg, Vrededorp and Newtown. Student housing more than doubled after World War II with the creation (for white students) of new residences and bungalows. Cottesloe Military Hospital in Auckland Park accommodated ex-war volunteers, including 400 single men and 30 married couples. Further afield, at Frankenwald, bungalows were built for 60 male


Douglas Smith House for Africans, est. 1946.

students who were taking the Soil Conservation course at Wits. On campus, College and Dalrymple House for women accommodated 270 students. Other men stayed in Knockando and women in Medhurst. Around one third of the fulltime student body lived on campus on the immediate surrounds. At the end of the 1950s, Wits residences accommodated some 750 students – around 15% of the student population. The men’s hall of residence on campus, College House and Dalrymple House, accommodated 150 men; Isabel Dalrymple House (“Sunnyside”) housed 160 women; Cottesloe, 400, and the Douglas Smith House for Africans, 36. Today, Wits accommodates about 6 200 students, although the demand for accommodation is estimated at 14 000. C Sources: Wits the Early Years, A History of the University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg and its Precursors 1896-1939, Bruce K. Murray, Wits University Press, 1982. Wits the ‘Open’ Years, A History of the University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg 1939-1959, Bruce K. Murray. Wits University Press, 1997.

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