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Delvers Close. A Toehold in the Big City

Type of publication Not peer-reviewed
Publikationsform Contribution to book (non peer-reviewed)
Publication date 2016
Author Howe Lindsay Blair, Schwarz Daniel, Brillembourg Alfredo,
Project Towards a New Urbanism: Cooperative Development Strategies in Johannesburg's Interstitial
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Contribution to book (non peer-reviewed)

Book Up Up: Stories of Johannesburg’s Highrises
Editor , Dechmann et al. eds.
Publisher Fourthwall Books, Johannesburg Südafrika
Page(s) 64 - 79
ISBN 978-3775740937
Title of proceedings Up Up: Stories of Johannesburg’s Highrises


“A radio,” the translator noted said to us. “She’s explaining that the water and electricity have been turned off, but she can still listen to her battery-operated radio even in the dark.” The translator, Simphiwe, looked back at the woman, Nthabiseng, who smiled and nodded, confirming his interpretation. She seemed hesitant to speak on camera about her situation at Delvers Close, and we assumed her reluctance to criticize the dilapidated structure came from an inherent fear of eviction. But once our translator engaged with her in her native Sesotho, her responses gradually became more incisive and descriptive; she soon turned to English and told us: “Long time we don’t have electricity. We are scared; like me, I’ve got three kids and my husband was gone [for weeks to his hometown] and came back this week. I was all alone this whole time and I was scared. Some of the people on the weekends are coming from taverns and beating each other. It’s not safe. If you are going out at night, like half-past seven, it’s dark on the steps. Maybe if you’ve got enemies, there are people that can catch you and kill you or rape you.” Such stories are often depicted as the norm in inner-city Johannesburg, particularly on Delvers Street. Unfortunately for many low-income urban dwellers, particularly newcomer women such as Nthabiseng (whose name means “make me smile” in SesSotho), this can be the reality of their existence. However, a multiplicity of stories unfold in the space of the Johannesburg Central Business District (CBD), weaving a much more complex tapestry of socio-spatial and economic interaction amongst residents, workers, and visitors. One of the primary north-south arteries in the CBD, Delvers Street exemplifies the ways in which a city’s history and it’s current patterns of spatial relationships begin to revise the narrative, juxtaposing personal stories of new hope with lasting frustrations that remain tangible across South Africa.