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Book Review: Changing Space, Changing City, WITS University Press

Published at: 24 June 2015

Johannesburg is brought to life in a new book that details how the city ­transformed itself to forge a new urban identity


Johannesburg is a regular feature on the list of “must-visit” cities and its residents fiercely defend it from critical Capetonians. Now a new book explores how and why the city has changed in the past 20 years.

Changing Space, Changing City: Johannesburg After Apartheid is published by Wits University Press and brings a range of data sets and statistics to life in telling the story of the city since 1994. Its authors explored the city’s expanding, densifying economy; its growing, changing population; the change in its physical form; and its restructured governance to try and understand the City of Gold.

The 2011 census put Gauteng’s population at 12.7 million, or about 24% of all South Africa’s residents on about 1.4% of its surface area. One in 10 of Joburg’s residents live in informal settlements, down from one in four in 1996. The authors found back-yard shacks had become an increasingly common form of informal housing. They accommodate more people than homes in Gauteng’s informal settlements. The authors also found that only 2% of Gauteng’s citizens lacked piped water and 96% had access to a flush toilet. They discovered that an average of 20% of household income is spent on transport.Changing Space, Changing City, overlays this and other data on to a series of maps and chapters that explore different elements of Gauteng and Joburg.

One of the authors, Philip Harrison, writes of Gauteng’s economy: “Between 1996 and 2011 the Gross Value Added (GVA) of Johannesburg’s economy expanded by 87.7% compared to a national increase of 61.8%. In South Africa the number of individuals with jobs increased by 43% compared with 79% for Johannesburg. As the economy expanded, so its structure continued to change. The transition from a mining to a manufacturing economy, and then to a service economy, was well over by the mid-1990s when South Africa entered the age of democracy. The major driver of this structural change was the cluster of industries in the finance, insurance, real estate and business services sector, which expanded its contribution to GVA and employment significantly.”

The advent of democracy has also changed the city’s demographics. “The demographic structure of the city shifted marginally between 1996 and 2011, with the gender distribution remaining almost evenly balanced at about 50.1% male and 49.9% female. The big change, however, was in terms of race,” says the book.“The African population is increasingly dominant, accounting for more than three-quarters of the total population by 2011. By contrast, there was a significant relative decline in the size of the white population.

“Among the smaller groupings, there was a significant proportional increase in the size of the population of Indian/Asian descent, driven mainly by a wave of ­in-migration from Asia, and a slight proportional decline in the size of the coloured population, which is not benefiting from in-migration.”

This article originally appeared in City Press newspaper.

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