Accepted Paper:

Blindness: urban renewal, migration and exclusion in inner city Johannesburg  


Matthew Wilhelm-Solomon (University of the Witwatersrand)

Paper Short Abstract:

Based on ongoing fieldwork at an inner-city tenement building in Johannesburg this paper investigates how urban renewal policies exacerbate tensions among its unlawful occupants.

Paper long abstract:

In July 2010 the occupiers of an inner-city tenement building in Johannesburg, South Africa, were issued with an eviction order affirmed by the High Court. The building is situated in a post-industrial neighbourhood which is home to thousands of migrants, both national and non-national. Most live unlawfully in warehouses and tenements without access to basic water, sanitation, electricity and waste services; many are blind or otherwise disabled. The area is being targeted by the city's urban renewal project and, ironically, the evictor is a low-cost housing company. Focusing on the case of this threatened eviction, this paper analyses how such larger renewal policies have exacerbated tensions among the occupiers which were channelled along nationalist lines, as well as between the able-bodied and disabled. In particular, it investigates how a group of blind Zimbabweans experienced violent threats and accusations of betrayal as they had been offered alternate accommodation by the evicting lawyer due to their disability. Others in the building, particularly South Africans, felt that they had been abandoned by the state and legal system which offered them no safety net. This study indicates that ongoing private sector driven renewal policies, in the absence of affordable accommodation for the poorest and most marginal groups, are likely to continue to exacerbate social divisions along national and other unexpected lines. Hence, the title refers not only to the blind migrants in this ethnography but also to the pervading social and political blindness towards marginal groups in the rhetoric and policy of urban renewal in Johannesburg.

Panel W078
Urban renewal, uncertainty and exclusion (EN)