Hillbrow, Gauteng

Hillbrow is the inner city residential neighbourhood of Johannesburg, Gauteng Province, South Africa. It is known for its high levels of population density, unemployment, poverty and crime. In the 1970s it was an Apartheid-designated 'whites only' area but soon became a 'grey area', where people of different ethnicities lived together. It acquired a cosmopolitan and politically progressive feel but unfortunately due to poor planning its infrastructure could not cope with the rapid population growth. This, together with lack of investment and political instability led to an eflux of middle class residents in the 1980s and the decay of major buildings, leaving in its wake an urban slum by the 1990s. Today the majority of the residents are migrants from the townships, rural areas and the rest of Africa (particularly Nigeria), many living in abject poverty. An urban regeneration programme is underway. There are street markets, mainly used by local residents, and the Johannesburg Art Gallery contains work by major local artists including William Kentridge.

In the media

In 2000, Michael Hammon and Jacqueline Görgen directed a documentary named Hillbrow Kids, depicting the struggles of a group of street children in post-apartheid urban South Africa. The 2001 novel Welcome to Our Hillbrow (University of KwaZulu-Natal Press) by Phaswane Mpe deals with life in the district in the years after apartheid, focusing on a large number of issues ranging from poverty, HIV/AIDS, and xenophobia. Hillbrow has also been a setting used by other South African writers: in the 2001 novel, The Restless Supermarket (David Philip Publishers), Ivan Vladislavic comically portrays South Africa's transition to democracy, endowing his narrator, Aubrey Tearle, with the perpective of a conservative white pensioner. Through this lens, Hillbrow becomes representative for the larger post-apartheid nation.


Constitution Hill

The Constitution Hill precinct, seat of the Constitutional Court of South Africa, is located on the western edge of Hillbrow, and is part of a major government and private initiative to revitalize the area and the rest of the CBD.

Hillbrow Tower

The Hillbrow Tower, a telecommunications tower, dominates the Johannesburg city skyline, featured in many picture postcard views of the city. It has become a symbol of the city and appears in the city seal. Completed in 1971, it rises to a height of 270 metres, thus making it the tallest man-made structure with an elevator in Africa. Initially named the JG Strijdom Tower, it became popularly known simply as the Hillbrow tower, and in May 2005 it was renamed to Telkom Joburg Tower, with its new name displayed prominently in lights. It once featured a luxury rotating restaurant, but that was closed in 1981 due to security fears and is unlikely to be reopened.

Ponte City

Ponte City is the tallest residential building in Johannesburg and one of the city's most striking urban landmarks. It was designed by architect Rodney Grosskopff (who also designed other South African landmarks such as the Johannesburg Civic Theatre) and completed in 1975.

The building is distinct both due to its height, rising to 54 storeys above one of the highest points in Johannesburg, as well as its cylindrical shape. During its prime, Ponte City was one of the city's most sought-after addresses, but with inner-city urban decay setting in, it has become run-down, over-populated and unsafe. The building was placed under new management in 1999, and with regular maintenance reinstated and gradual restoration, coupled with council, provincial and government initiatives to rehabilitate Hillbrow, it is beginning to find some shine again.

As of February 2007, British director, Danny Boyle, director of Trainspotting has announced plans to use the building as film set in a future release.

Suggested reading

  • Alan Morris, Bleakness and Light: Inner City Transition in Hillbrow, Johannesburg (Johannesburg, University of Witwatersrand Press, 1999)
  • Glynn Griffith and Paddy Clay, Hillbrow (Cape Town, Don Nelson, 1982)

External links

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