ON: Gentrification

“If you drive over the bridge, you’ve gone too far. Then you’re in the CBD CBD” – this was the warning I would add when giving directions to my friends when I used to live in Braamfontein, Johannesburg. As a student it was public knowledge that crossing the Nelson Mandela bridge, meant leaving the relative “safety” of the patrolled, student filled streets of Braam and entering, “real” downtown Johannesburg.

Patrons at the Motherland coffee shop. Photo: Me
Patrons at the Motherland coffee shop. Photo: Pheladi Sethusa

When I lived in Braam four years ago, the prettification of the place had only just begun. The trendy, art decor-ish apartment block I had moved into still had builders coming in and out, paint fumes choking us and an irregular electricity supply. But it was by far the safest and cleanest place around me. Standing on the balcony of my brand new apartment, with supplied furniture and 24-hour security and fingerprint access, were the rows and rows of rusty, bird-shit-stained, peeling walls that housed the bane of property developers and the state’s existence. The blaring gospel music and the sight of panties on balconies became mine.

The run down apartments – housing entire extended families – around me reminded me of Lucky Kunene, a fictional character in a local movie, Jerusalema. Basically this ex “baddie” buys rundown buildings in the inner city, promises reduced rent to inhabitants, collects it then forces the landlords to take the reduced rent. When they fight him on it, he makes running the place and evictions impossible; then buys the buildings when landlords inevitably give up. And when he gets control, the twisted Robin Hood of Hillbrow rids the buildings of drugs, prostitutes and general squalor. The apartments around me are the places we see red ants descend upon where people are evicted after not paying rent because of the lack of services, which are a result of unpaid rent and so on and so forth.

Dictionary definition of Gentrification: the process of renewal and rebuilding accompanying the influx of middle-class or affluent people into deteriorating areas that often displaces poorer residents.

By the time I was in third year, our prettified part of the inner city had really come alive. Jolling in Braam was now a viable option. You could hop from Puma Social Club, to Great Dane to Kitcheners. None of which had entrance at the time, Great Dane just had a password some nights and if you didn’t have it R20 was your fine. In the daytime there was Post and Double Shot and Father – all of which my student budget could never quite afford but made an effort to save for come allowance day.

“Once you start to notice bike lanes in your neighbourhood – especially if you’re from the hood – that’s an indication that  the neighbourhood is about to be gentrified.” – Negus Korby in Not in my Neighbourhood (2013)

Thrift stalls at Kitcheners Cravery Bar. Photo: Me
Thrift stalls at Kitcheners Cravery Bar. Photo: Pheladi Sethusa

Then there was that whole “take the streets back” thing Nike had going on, I asked myself “back from who?” but those thoughts were quickly sanitised by the cute banana loaves and frozen lemonades at Motherland. At the time all the change happening on the streets I walked on daily was exciting. I spoke about the “rejuvenation of the inner city” with that hipster smugness we all hate. Without thinking about the people that lived on the periphery of these changes, on the other side of the bridge or even in the middle of these changes but not being able to enjoy the changes because of financial barriers.

I love Braam with all of my heart. As a girl from Pretoria it helped me begin to navigate the city in a way I never would have if I lived in res or at home. Of late, I have had to reevaluate this love. Gentrification and spatial violence in these rejuvenated spaces has come under some scrutiny. I’ve read the articles with an open mind, making me question myself and ultimately feeling guilty for my entire social life being based in one of these questionable spaces.

In 2013 evictions of informal traders in the inner city, saw over 2000 people displaced. Operation Clean Sweep (uncanny coincidence huh) was apparently an initiative aimed at ridding the city of “illegal hawkers”.

One of the things that has contributed to my mixed feelings is Not In My Neighbourhood, a unfinished documentary by Kurt Orderson. I saw the full version  this past week for the first time, screenings haven’t come up to the city of gold yet but I have spoken to him and he assured me it will happen at some point. Watching this actually made me think about spatial violence in our current context. The evictions we see in buildings too close to our little bubbles are akin to the forced removals of apartheid, are they not? But perhaps instead of bulldozers arriving suddenly, we now force people out with the exorbitant rental fees imposed after renovations.

“For inner city street traders, who are increasingly pushed into smaller and smaller spaces… Gentrification is also about – in Johannesburg – urban redevelopment is also about not just a particular aesthetic effect, it’s also a mode of governance.” – Mpho Matsipa in Not in my Neighbourhood (2013)

It had never occurred to me until I wrote this, but there are no street vendors in Braam, there are many little spaza shops and cellphone shops and salons – but no one has a little table set up on the street. Now I’m wondering if this is by design or perhaps there was just never a need for “informal traders” because everyone has a shop? Hmmm.

I don’t have an opinion on “gentrification”, I think I see both sides on this one. I get people who argue against it and I find their arguments valid but I also get people who are in favour of it and think that it brings positive change but for who is the question? I don’t have the answers, I’m just a girl with a blog, thinking out aloud.


Free The Word: A literary gathering

I attended a night of poetry and literary goodness in a jazzy place earlier this month. Finally got down to editing and packaging this short(ish) video of what transpired that night, enjoy.

Homeless boy finds baby tossed from car

NOTE: Article first appeared on The Citizen website on November 6, 2014.

A homeless boy in Braamfontein, who thought he had picked up a Checkers plastic bag filled with food and other “nice things” near Wits University, was shocked when he instead discovered the mangled body of a dead baby.

Wits University campus control director Robert Kemp said the body had been dumped from a white Volkswagen Polo driving down Jan Smuts Avenue in Johannesburg late on Tuesday night.

It was particularly cold and wet that night, and the desperate homeless youngster thought he might have found something to help him through it.

“A passing vagrant saw the packet thinking there might be something nice for him in there but then he discovered the deceased baby,” said Kemp.

The young boy immediately looked for help and quickly approached campus control officers at the Nowsell Hall residence.

Warrant Officer Richard Munyai confirmed the incident yesterday.

“A case of concealment of birth has been opened… that is basically [an] abortion,” he explained.

He added that preliminary findings revealed that “it was a stillborn baby in that plastic”.

A police investigation was underway.

Meet Little Lagos – Jozi style

NOTE: Article first appeared in The Citizen newspaper on April 9, 2014.

Evans Emeafa does a client's hair at his family owned beauty salon in Braamfontein, 7 April 2014. The area has been nicknamed little Lagos due to the amount of Nigerian owed businesses in the area. Picture: Tracy Lee Stark
Evans Emeafa does a client’s hair at his family owned beauty salon in Braamfontein, 7 April 2014. The area has been nicknamed little Lagos due to the amount of Nigerian owed businesses in the area. Picture: Tracy Lee Stark

You can find anything from vegetables to groceries and a unique haircut to traditional clothing when you visit the Nigerian shop-owners in Braamfontein.

It is a busy area, with loud Nigerian music playing in the shops where both foreigners and students do business.

It is also known as Little Lagos by students who stay nearby.

Some of the Nigerian entrepreneurs in downtown Johannesburg told The Citizen they were happy to hear their mother country’s economy had overtaken South Africa as the continent’s largest.

Biccard Street in Braamfontein has quite a few Nigerian-owned businesses that bring competitive services and products to consumers. Everything from salons, to Internet cafes, gyms and clothing stores line the busy street.

Oluwadamilola Apotieri, a Nigerian business owner in the area, said while the GDP takeover was good news, the truth of the matter is that it will not put food on the table of the poor. “It will not reduce the level of poverty. It will only add up to the political mumbo jumbo.”

Apotieri attributed Nigerian business people’s success to zeal. “Nigerian entrepreneurs do not mind spending time, money and energy to build.”

Ameck Ottance, a dressmaker at Graceland Fashion Design, said: “Nigerians are business-minded people. You can see that from the businesses on this street.”

Evans Emeafo, manager and stylist at a hair salon, said his trade secret lays in “keeping it in the family”.

The salon he works at is owned by his brother and their employees are all family members.

Emeafo said he “was happy that the Nigerian economy was doing so well”, but so was his business. He sees no reason to move back home.

GALLERY: Morning fun in Braam

We were meant to be out on assignment and then ended up taking casual snaps of one another, great fun.  All photo’s in this gallery taken by me 🙂

Cool Kid on Campus: Tom Revington

LOL: Thomas Revington laughs as he tells Wits Vuvuzela more about himself. Photo: Shandukani Mulaudzi
LOL: Thomas Revington laughs as he tells Wits Vuvuzela more about himself. Photo: Shandukani Mulaudzi

Thomas “Tom” Revington is a long-haired indie kid, who is a student by day and a rock star by night.

The fourth year film student is the guitarist and ukulele player in indie-bele band Shortstraw. His other talents include beat boxing and playing on an electric drum kit.

He lives in a commune in Emmarentia with other musicians, which allows him to jam whenever the urge arises.

Why did you choose to study film?

‘Cause it’s cool. No I’m joking. I wanted to do architecture, but apparently my maths marks weren’t good enough so film was the next best thing. Glad I did though, I get to experience life in its entirety and love the creative process and being able to produce a product at the end.

How did you get involved with the band Shortstraw?

I used to be in a band called The Uncut, but that ended. I just posted a Facebook status saying that I was bored and wanted to jam with people looking for a guitarist.

Jason Heartman, the band’s ex-guitarist, saw it and let the guys know and, yeah, two and a half years later, I’m still the guitarist.

 You just went to Oppikoppi with the band. How was that?

It was awesome, dusty and crazy, but I managed to survive it. I particularly enjoyed the performances byManchester Orchestraand Matthew Mole. He’s a buddy of ours. Also our show was crazy cool, just an amazing experience.

How do you juggle being in a band and being a full-time student? 

Yo, it’s hard hey. I do that and I have to work to pay for rent and stuff. Last year my first day of exams coincided with the band’s first day of tour, so I had to fly back and forth a lot and did a lot of studying on planes.

But everything works out somehow.

Are girls very forthcoming with their advance because you’re in a band?

Ha ha ja, but I‘m just not that kind of guy. I have signed a boob though. There’s a lot of temptation I suppose, but I am single and I’m just really awkward anyway. My awkwardness generally just puts girls off.

What are some of your favourite spots in Braamfontein?

There’s so many, I like Great DaneKitchenersFather Coffee – actually just everything on Juta. The urban renovation is awesome, I hope it keeps growing so everyone can come party in the city.


La Bonne Vie

LE GOOD LIFE: Samkele Kaase and Karabo Ntshweng having fun in studio. Photo: Pheladi Sethusa
LE GOOD LIFE: Samkele Kaase and Karabo Ntshweng having fun in studio. Photo: Pheladi Sethusa

Two great minds and voices have come together to bring Witsies and all those in Braamfie ‘the good life’ on VoWfm.

La Bonne Vie is the French phrase for ‘good life’ and is now the name of a lifestyle and entertainment show hosted by Karabo Ntshweng and Samkele Kaase.

La Bonne what?

“We want to expose Joburg in its entirety,” said Ntshweng. She added that they want to give students a taste of the good life that falls within their budget.

Kaase and Ntshweng said that they went about doing this by attending events, informing people about events and having weekly give-aways. Events and places that students previously might not have had access to or just didn’t know about.

Kaase said that they connect with the people who own all the hotspots in Braam and make their proposals for deals and give-aways for the show.

Who’s it for?

Kaase said: “The show is very androgynous. People often assume that lifestyle shows are for women.” The pair added that they are about reaching out to students in the Braamfontein area who want to make things happen for themselves.

Natural progression

The co-hosts have always wanted to work together and this show was the natural progression of their professional relationship. Ntshweng said that they have both been at VoW for a long time and that they wanted to host an “entertaining talk show” that did more than just play popular music.

Kaase is still a student at Wits and Ntshweng now works at a popular Johannesburg radio station.

Witsies can catch La Bonne Vie on Thursdays at 7pm and podcasts are going to be available on VoW’s website from this week onwards.