Brickfields - The Regeneration of Communities

© CITICHAT 24/2005

As one would expect the Johannesburg Housing Company's official opening of their Brickfields Project in Newtown last Friday was a swell affair. The fact that the President, Thabo Mbeki, was officiating highlighted the importance of the occasion -
Brickfields was in fact one of the projects that came out of the Presidential Job Summit agreed back in 1998.

I thought that the President's address was extremely pertinent and perceptive and, as one has come to expect, poetic! I am going to quote widely from his speech as one would hope that the message that is sent out by the head of the country will not only be heard but also acted upon.

The President started by reminding all present of the colonial and apartheid history of the area which led to the area becoming "a wasteland as both the apart heid government and the mining bosses refused to regard as their responsibility the provision of proper housing and security and comfort to their workers." His "wasteland" allegory was backed by a quotation from T.S. Eliot's poem of the same name:

"What are the roots that clutch, what branches grow
Out of this stony rubbish? Son of man,
You cannot say, or guess, for you know only
A heap of broken images, where the sun beats
And the dead tree gives no shelter, the cricket no relief,
And the dry stone no sound of water.

Only there is shadow under the red rock,
(Come in under the shadow of this red rock),
And I will show you something different from either.

Your shadow at morning striding behind you
Or your shadow at evening rising to meet you;
I will show you fear in a handful of dust."

"Indeed," the President said, "as the dream of a non-racial community died under the load of colonial and apartheid laws, it seemed as if Brickfields will forever represent 'the heap of broken images, where the sun beats and the dead tree gives no
shelter' and where 'the cricket' or any sporting activity offered 'no relief'.

Today, we are here to transform the dust and the wasteland of Fordsburg Spruit and to exorcise the apartheid ghosts of the slums of the Brickfields Estate. No longer shall the spectre of the shadows of apartheid, colonial subjugation, forced removalsof vibrant communities and bull-dozers haunt us.

For the Fordsburg Spruit has come alive as the eternal fountain and spring of hope and prosperity, as the golden roots and branches of new families creating new safe spaces and new opportunities amidst the sturdy rock and clay.

No longer do we see dusty streets or a cloud of a handful of dust. For in the hidden splendour of the golden dust, arises something different - a new city of prosperity, of healthy communities, of decent housing, of security and comfort.

The Brickfields Housing project is a tangible expression of how the worldwide phenomenon of decaying inner cities, can, through sustainable urbanisation, be transformed into peaceful, better havens and friendly neighbourhoods."

Certainly a poetic epitaph for what once was!

The second issue he raised was the entrenchment of apartheid planning and the rich/poor divide versus the regeneration of communities..."we have, among others, an urgent challenge of bringing to a stop the pro-rich housing development
strategies that ensure that the best located land that is close to all the best facilities is always available to the rich; a situation where the best land is allocated especially to create gated communities and golf estates, while the poor can only access dusty semi-developed land far away from modern infrastructure.

All of us have a duty to use housing development to create vibrant communities for all our people; to build communities that have adequate recreational facilities; that have crèches, clinics and schools like Brickfields development; communities
that have active sports instructors for the young people and have sufficient number of trained professionals that assist with career guidance for learners and students.

We need these communities that have social workers that are ready and able to help our people with whatever challenges that they face. Together we should create communities where teachers, priests and other community leaders are not afraid to lead our people into a better future.

Indeed, I would like all of us, as we engage in these important programmes of housing developments, to see these as part of the larger national agenda of the regeneration of our communities and accordingly use these processes to help build vibrant, viable and lively communities which have internalised the ethos of U buntu and are able to utilise the age-old values of Letsema and Vuk'zenzele.

The Star (Business Report Wednesday August 17th) challenged these comments as "mystifying". Pointing out that the most conveniently located land 'has been and always will be likely to cost more', and that "it stands to reason that the rich will be most able to buy in the better located areas” the reporter lauds the 'vision, persistence and financial commitment' of developers that have made these estates successful. Pity they don't provide some of their getting obscenely rich genius towards helping us solve the problems of how to house the thirty-plus percent of people who are unemployed and have no income at all. But the fact of the matter is that we need to be focusing on regenerating communities and we will not achieve
that if we persist in apartheid planning. That is why Newtown is such a special opportunity, right on the edge of the city with projects such as Brickfields merelya few street away from proposed high-income residential.

Thirdly, the President touched on my major inner city nightmare of the moment (Citichat 22/2005) - slumlording, hi-jacking of buildings and reprehensible criminal behaviour and charged the Mayor and police with the responsibility of dealing with
the issue. Yes!!!!!. "This development demonstrates that it is possible to regenerate the inner cities and avoid the resort to unscrupulous, fly-by-night operations similar to some of those that we have seen in this city where our people are placed in derelict buildings that have no lights, no water and no proper sewerage.

This is done by people who are only interested in making as much money as possible out of the desperation of our people for shelter. We should increase our efforts to bring to book those responsible for this unacceptable behaviour.

I understand that some of these criminals are even brazen in their criminal activities to the extent that they even resort to murder so as to hijack buildings in order to extort money from our people. I would like the city mayor, working with
the police, to attend urgently to this matter."

Watch this space! Regards, neil

Neil Fraser is a partner in Neil Fraser & Associates which trades as 'Urban Inc.' an urban consultancy dedicated to the revitalisation and regeneration of cities and of the inner city of Johannesburg in particular. He can be contacted at (083) 456 0242 or (011) 444-4895 or by e-mail at

Citichat is a free weekly publication concerning cities generally and Johannesburg specifically. Please forward Citichat to your colleagues who may wish to be placed on the subscription list. To subscribe please contact us at