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Regular version of the site

HSE Master’s Students Travel to South Africa

Last year, a team of Advanced Urban Design students from the Graduate School of Urbanism and Strelka Institute embarked on a research expedition to Johannesburg, where they studied problems associated with food security, poverty and inequality.

Johannesburg is the largest city in South Africa, with a population of over 4 million people and an urban agglomeration estimated at about 8 million. This is a city of striking contrast, where poverty and the legacy of the apartheid are juxtaposed against wealth and prosperity. It has been dubbed ‘the South African New York’, and is considered the trend-setter for the entire African continent. 

Advanced Urban Design students carried out a field study in Johannesburg on poverty and food security in the Hillbrow neighbourhood. This district is situated in the city centre and is known for its high crime and unemployment rates, as well as for its problems associated with supplying food to residents.

Starvation in South Africa is not as high as in other parts of Africa and this is most likely why South Africa doesn’t attract the help it needs. In reality, South Africa is experiencing what is called ‘hidden starvation’: many people don’t have access to high-quality food and their diet isn’t balanced, which leads to developmental delays and obesity. Children are affected most by this problem: they don’t suffer from hunger, but they do suffer from abnormal development. As a result, teenagers often fail to graduate from high school and to find a job, and so the vicious circle of poverty continues.

Hillbrow has always drawn a lot of immigrants. From the 1940s through to 1980, it attracted Europeans, Russians, and Latin Americans, becoming a culturally diverse neighborhood with a population that was mostly white. In the 1990s, the situation changed drastically: with the end of the apartheid, black people began to move to Johannesburg, and white people began to leave. Today, 99% of the population is made up of black immigrants from other African countries.

 Student research projects which focused on solving the problem of food security in Hillbrow and in other parts of the city were presented at the WITS University School of Economic and Business Sciences. Leading experts in this field attended the event, included Thomas Scott, chief economist of Johannesburg, Rob Moore, director of the Gauteng City-Region Observatory, and Jannie Rossouw, head of the School of Economic and Business Sciences.

Due to immigration, the population of Hillbrow continues to increase by 10 000 every year. The government has ceased to subsidize neighborhood maintenance costs, because it considers the high migration rate as a threat, rather than an opportunity. As a result,  Hillbrow has become known for crime, xenophobia, and illegal economic activities.

It’s not surprising that few researchers dare to study Hillbrow; it presents a complicated and dangerous subject. It’s easier to go to Soweto, where the local black population lives, or to the fashionable Maboneng, where the streets are comparatively safe. HSE students, however, chose Hillbrow. The expedition was headed by urbanist, Dr. Ronald Wall. Dr Wall is a tutor in the Advanced Urban Design Master’s programme, a professor at WITS University (Johannesburg) and Head of the Urban Competitiveness and Resilience Department at the Institute for Housing and Urban Studies (IHS), Erasmus University Rotterdam.

The expedition team met Prof. Michael Rudolph, founder and director of Wits Siyakhana Initiative, a non-profit organization that provides Johannesburg residents with eco-friendly food grown in the center of the city. They also visited the renowned Ponte City Apartments – a 55-storey tower built in the 1970s. Once an elite residential building, it became a slum in the late 1980s. These days, it is lived in by a team of young activists who lead a movement aimed at establishing an informal management system to improve the safety and public image of Ponte City.

HSE students also visited other Johannesburg neighborhoods, including Soweto, Maboneng and Yeoville, sampled local food, talked to residents and investigated the social and spatial structures that have evolved as a result of apartheid politics, which have continued to impact the lives of locals.

Student research projects which focused on solving the problem of food security in Hillbrow and in other parts of the city were presented at the WITS University School of Economic and Business Sciences. Leading experts in this field attended the event, included Thomas Scott, chief economist of Johannesburg, Rob Moore, director of the Gauteng City-Region Observatory, and Jannie Rossouw, head of the School of Economic and Business Sciences.

Apply online for Advanced Urban Design programme. Application deadline is July 15, 2018.