What does ‘home’ mean in the context of the urban housing crisis?

maHp/ACMS Associate Researcher Matthew Wilhelm-Solomon was recently (15 April 2021) invited by The Institute of Social and Economic Research (ISER) at Rhodes University to help answer the question:

What does ‘home’ mean in the context of the urban housing crisis?

The growing socio-political and economic crises that face South Africa and many of its neighbouring countries have put almost impossible planning and administrative pressures on local governments, particularly the metropoles like the City of Johannesburg. In many cases the pressures are ushering in systemic collapses of public service provisions, which result in unbearable living conditions, especially for the most vulnerable residents of the inner city. These include the poor working class, unemployed South Africans, many of whom are internal migrants, as well as migrants from other African countries who come seeking refuge in these cities. The migrants often come from worse economic and political conditions in their places of origin.

In his recent research paper titled, THE CITY OTHERWISE: The Deferred Emergency of Occupation in Inner-City Johannesburg, Wilhelm-Solomon captures the mood of the socio-political crises facing the leadership and management of the City of Johannesburg as follows:

In 2017, Mayor Herman Mashaba, announced a campaign of “shock and awe” in inner-city Johannesburg, pronouncing the city a “battlefield”. The city’s so-called hijacked buildings – also known as “bad buildings” or “dark buildings” were portrayed as a blight on the city, full of criminals and undocumented migrants. Mashaba, who as a young man had experienced the continued violence and insecurity of police raids, adopted raids as a primary strategy in his approach to issues of crime and housing in the inner city.

But what were these buildings, and who occupied them? How is one to understand the character of this occupation? And what did closing them imply? Where were the occupants to go?

While some of these issues are being resolved through protracted social, political, and juridical processes, COVID-19 has brought new challenges for inner-city residents. Dense living conditions and limited water supply mean that residents of occupations struggle to follow public health guidelines, with potentially dire consequences.

In this webinar Wilhelm-Solomon discussed these issues and more. Watch the full session below:

About Matthew Wilhelm-Solomon

Matthew Wilhelm-Solomon is an Associate Researcher on the Migration and Health Project Southern Africa, based at the African Centre for Migration & Society at the University of Witwatersrand (Wits).

Matthew holds a doctorate from the University of Oxford, which was ethnographic study of HIV/AIDS treatment programmes to displaced communities in northern Uganda. Over the past five years he has conducting research in inner-city Johannesburg on themes of migration, religion, health and housing. He is beginning new research looking at African migration to Brazil.

Matthew has published widely in different books and journals including Medical Anthropology, Critical African Studies and the African Cities Reader, and a number of newspapers and journalistic publications including the Mail & Guardian, Sunday Times, Chimurenga Chronic and the ConMag. He is the lead editor of the book 'Routes and Rites to the City: Mobility, Diversity and Religious Space in Johannesburg' to published by Palgrave-MacMilllan.