Rebuilding Foundations

An exploration of international development work in Africa

A Brief History of South Africa, Part 1

In each of these historical tidbits, I’ll attempt to explain one aspect of South Africa’s story that affects how things have developed/are developing.

Cities in this country are made up of suburbs and townships.  Suburbs are traditionally white areas and tend to be affluent, better serviced, and more secure.  Townships, on the other hand, are areas that were legally segregated during Apartheid.  Historically they were designated as either black, coloured (mixed heritage), or Indian.  Sometimes “township” means an informal settlement that the government did not authorize.

These two labels are somewhat fluid.  For example, the district I work in, Hillbrow, used to be a yuppie suburb from the 1960’s to 1990’s.  Near the city’s university, it was known for its vibrant, youthful energy.  After Apartheid ended in 1994, it became a predominantly black neighbourhood.  Businesses left and the area rapidly deteriorated.  It became known as one of Johannesburg’s worst townships for crime and safety issues.

Today, Hillbrow is on the upward slope of revitalization.  The provincial government has dedicated a significant amount of resources to the area for its rejuvenation.  That being said, many South Africans still won’t go there.  Johannesburg is designed into various residential areas that are connected by freeway.  This makes it very easy to avoid certain neighbourhoods.  Many white South Africans have never been in a township, even though they drive past them all the time.

This sprawling design worked very well for segregating blacks and whites.  It’s an interesting example of how technology (i.e. cars) affected geography to advance a political agenda.


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