eKhaya : an urban regeneration project in Johannesburg, South Africa

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Main actors

City Government, Private Sector, Community / Citizen Group, Public Utility

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Project area

Neighborhood or district

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Ongoing since 2004/11

Through community mobilization, the eKhaya neighbourhood regeneration program has influenced the re-development of other declining areas in the City of Johannesburg.

eKhaya is a residential inner-city neighbourhood in Hillbrow, a district of Johannesburg.  Hillbrow is historically known for high levels of unemployment, poverty, crime and population density. In 2004 eKhaya was designated as a Residential City Improvement District (RCID) and a Neighborhood Improvement Program was implemented with the support of the City of Johannesburg and The Johannesburg Housing Company (JHC) together with other stakeholders including property management companies, property owners, property caretakers and tenants. The project demonstrates a bottom-up, community-led response to urban degeneration that puts emphasis on social capital as an essential element of urban regeneration.

This case study was contributed from the UCLG Learning Team (learning@uclg.org).

Sustainable Development Goals

Ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages
Promote sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment and decent work for all
Build resilient infrastructure, promote inclusive and sustainable industrialization and foster innovation
Reduce inequality within and among countries
Make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable
Promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, provide access to justice for all and build effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels
Johannesburg, South Africa

Size and population development
Johannesburg has roughly doubled in size since the end of apartheid in 1994, with a population of around 5.5 million people in 2018. In addition to the city proper, the larger metropolitan area is home to 9.6 million people, taking up most of Gauteng province. The city itself is set to expand by another two million people by 2035.

Population composition
Of those living within the Johannesburg’s city boundaries, they are 64% black, 14% white, 14% coloured and 7% Asian. The segregation policies of apartheid led to different suburbs, like Soweto and Lenasia, having very different composures. The most spoken first language is English, at 31%, followed by Zulu with around 20%. Johannesburg sports a young population, with around 42% of people being under the age of twenty-four, and only 6% over sixty. There are strong rich/poor divides, following the deep socio-economic divides from the history of colonialism and apartheid, high levels of unemployment and many people living in settlements that lack central municipal services.

Main functions
Johannesburg was founded in 1884 after the discovery of gold, and has since boomed, becoming the largest city in South Africa, and the biggest in the world not set on water, be it sea, lake or river. The area around Johannesburg has been inhabited since before the emergence of modern humans. Indeed, the city is just 25km from the ‘Cradle of Humankind’ UNESCO World Heritage Site, a site where large numbers of proto-human remains have been fossilised in caves. Elevated 1,753 metres above sea level, Johannesburg is the unofficial economic capital of South Africa—which happens to be a country without a legally designated capital. It remains a diverse place, where much wealth and poverty sit side by side, has a bustling multiculturalism, long-term settlers and migrants. Johannesburg also hosts numerous educational centres, including several universities and private collages, large sporting venues, and other cultural centres.

Main industries / business
Johannesburg is estimated to possess the largest economy of any city in sub-Saharan Africa. It is home to Africa’s largest stock exchange, the headquarters for many mining companies, financial institutions and other multinationals active in Africa. This gives the city a thriving services industry, with banking, IT, telecom, media and consumer retail sectors. Johannesburg also sports the continents biggest and busiest airport. Mining was of the greatest importance to the city, yet it has gradual declined owing to limited resources as well as the growth of other industries, notably manufacturing, with heavy industries like steel and cement operating. Johannesburg houses the Constitutional Court of South Africa.

Sources for city budget
The city draws it budget from pay-as-you-earn income taxes, and additional taxes on capital gains, value added, and property taxes, such as transfer, stamp and estate duty.

Political structure
After numerous reorganizations, most recently in 2006, Johannesburg Metropolitan Municipality governs the city via a council-mayor system. This features a separation between the legislative and executive bodies, plus an administrative arm, with the model mirroring the national and provincial governments. The city is divided into seven regions, labelled A to G, each composed of various suburbs. Above them is the executive branch, the Mayor of Johannesburg and the highest elected position in the city. Beyond the city is the premier of Gauteng, the smallest of South Africa’s nine provinces, and then the national government. Across the 20th century, many public organisations have been reorganised to run as corporate entities with the city as a shareholder. Concepts of “efficiency maximisation” has found expression elsewhere, with the seven regions being conceived as contractors to the central government, rather than components of the core administration. Each of the seven regions is responsible for the delivery of health care, housing, social development and other such community-based services. Likewise, Johannesburg’s key utilities, such as electricity, water and waste collection, are run by registered companies along business lines, receiving their funds from directly billing the populous.

Administrative structure
Johannesburg has 270 councillors representing various political parties, who debate local government issues, ratifying or rejecting proposals. The council focuses on legislative, oversight and participatory roles, delegating its executive function to the mayor and their various mayoral committees. The executive mayor has numerous political portfolios, including: economic development, development planning, environment and infrastructure service, housing, public safety, community development, transport and health and safety.

The district of Hillbrow was established as a residential extension to Johannesburg in the late 19th century. It was identified as an entry point neighbourhood for Immigrants due to its favourable, central location. During the 1950s and 1960s, a property boom led to extensive high-rise building developments in the area, making it only second to Hong Kong in terms of residential density at that time.

In the 1970s Hillbrow was a prosperous, designated whites-only area.  In 1978, under Apartheid, the Rental Control Act was lifted and landlords could now charge new tenants market rents, this resulted in a massive exodus of European migrants, the beginning of “white flight” from the city. The escalating violence in other townships of Johannesburg, together with the abolition of the Rental Control Act, led many colored and Indian people to move to Hillbrow. By 1980, the racial composition of the district had changed, leading the City of Johannesburg administration to declare Hillbrow a “gray area”, where people of different ethnicities lived together.  Rising rents forced tenants to sublet, causing over-crowding in poorly maintained buildings.

Subsequently, Hillbrow suffered from urban degeneration, over-population, unemployment, poverty, drugs, homicides and violence combined with many derelict buildings and by the 1990s the district was classified as an urban slum.

The objectives of the eKhaya Neighbourhood Improvement Program include:

  • Improving the living environment
  • Increasing social housing programs, systems and support
  • Activating local government interventions in the public realm (streets, alleyways, etc.)
  • Attracting private sector investment in building and management services
  • Changing resident perception of the area

By initiating the Neighborhood Improvement Program in 2004, The City of Johannesburg administration sought to dispel the notion that Hillbrow, and in particular eKaya, as a violent, no-go area by creating a liveable neighbourhood characterised by safety, cleanliness and friendliness, the three principles underpinning the initiative.

Beyond changes to the physical improvement of the area, the project sought to break the fear associated with “grey areas”. From the outset, the initiative used social capital as the basis of transformation and physical regeneration. Social capital was promoted by bringing together different stakeholders– property caretakers, for-profit and not-for-profit property owners, tenants and the city administrators – and encouraging them talk to one another on a regular basis, creating positive relationships.

The first critical phase placed emphasis on community mobilization. Following the purchase of properties by the Johannesburg Housing Company and Trafalgar Property Management, JHC’s housing consultant and community organiser initiated the ‘Know Your Neighbourhood’ campaign with the help of property caretakers. The cost for this phase was approximately ZAR 500,000 (approximately USD 35,000).

Aimed at breaking down barriers and fostering familiarisation among residents and stakeholders, the campaign involved neighbourhood scanning in the form of walkabouts. This led to active mobilisation of the housing managers and/or property caretakers around building issues, and the establishment of a housing manager forum. Following the mobilisation of the key stakeholders, primarily building managers – who identified crime, grime and violent New Years’ Eve celebrations as the immediate challenges – a voluntary association was set up and an executive committee was elected. As a result of these steps, property owners agreed to the payment of monthly levies of ZAR 24 (USD 1,70) to mitigate the challenges identified. The successful mobilisation of property owners generated a monthly income of ZAR 6400 (USD 450).

The second phase emphasized ‘bottom-up physical regeneration’. The monthly levies from the property owners enabled the eKhaya executive committee to introduce a security and street cleaning project called ‘Our Clean eKhaya Neighbourhood’ by contracting Bad Boy’z Security (a private security services provider) to work with Pikitup (a city refuse removal institution) – to clean the streets around member buildings. The levies also facilitated the start of the public space upgrading and management, which was supported by public agencies including the Johannesburg Development Agency (JDA). The first public spaces to be upgraded were derelict pavements and the grimy sanitary lanes, were cleaned and made secure.

The third phase involved community development and further attempts to foster the notion of friendliness in the eKhaya neighbourhood and the Hillbrow district. This was accomplished through social cohesion programmes such as the annual children’s program, the eKhaya Street Soccer concept, and the eKhaya Kidz’ Day event, which were largely driven by the precinct’s property caretakers.

The lead agencies for the project are The City of Johannesburg and the Johannesburg Housing Company. The City of Johannesburg is responsible for capital investment in streets, lighting, lane upgrades and the renovation and upgrades of the eKhaya park and other public spaces. The Johannesburg Housing Company and Trafalgar Properties provided the seed funding as well as providing administration and general logistics support. Membership levy fees also contribute to the ongoing upkeep on buildings.

Project activities such as children’s recreational and social cohesion programmes all require some level of resourcing.  Generally, these are financed from a combination of other sources:

  • sponsorship by way of cash or in-kind support external grant fund raising including from the municipality
  • contribution from service providers
  • volunteer work from people involved in activities
  • tenant and member fund-raising activities
  • small entrance fee for participation

The eKhaya project has helped to achieve the following outcomes:

  • regeneration of the physical quality of the neighbourhood
  • increase in the sense of security and wellbeing of its residents
  • generation of increased private and public investment in the area
  • stimulation of social cohesion and positive community involvement
  • making the eKhaya neighbourhood a positive-place-to-live for tenants

After years of extensive mediation and lobbying with the city administration, a site once abandoned to drugs and crime was reclaimed and upgraded into a recreational space for children, named eKhaya Park. The city administration invested ZAR 7 million (USD 500,000) in the park and provides on-going maintenance and gardening services.

‘Our Healthy eKhaya’ and ‘Safe New Year’ campaigns, largely driven by the property caretakers, involve the display of posters discouraging violent and chaotic behaviour. This has resulted in peaceful festive celebrations in the area since 2004, and residents now take more ownership of internal and external spaces.

Businesses and retail franchises are slowly returning to the area and will provide employment opportunities moving forward.

The implementation of the eKhaya project has led to a significant drop in crime and grime, both within and outside eKhaya member buildings, and has created a more liveable environment. In a 2016 survey on the impact for tenants, the general response was that eKhaya had positively impacted on their quality of life and livelihoods.

The eKhaya Neighbourhood Improvement Programme has ensured that a large part of the Hillbrow district is safe, clean and an inviting place to live, however ongoing social challenges remain in some sections of the district including:

  • “hi-jacked” buildings
  • drug use
  • unemployment and poverty
  • aging engineering services
  • fragmented Institutional structures

The eKhaya project demonstrates that solutions to urban problems cannot only be devised by city administrators, but can also be generated by residents and business owners and operators.

The eKhaya neighborhood is managed by a consortium of public agencies, private sector and community actors. It demonstrates the power of mobilization to actively engage residents –those who own property and those who do not own property – by giving them a voice in urban regeneration efforts of the district.

While most urban regeneration initiatives lead to gentrification and the exclusion of low-income residents, the eKhaya project is flexible towards informal and street trading and subletting. These practices are often seen by city officials as illegal by contributing to urban disorder, however, they are imperative to making the city inclusive to the urban poor.

Vital Neighborhoods in Metropolitan Cities, Power of Urban Transformation through Social and Solidarity Economy (SSE), UCLG peer learning Note, Montreal, June 2017

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