New Year’s Eve in South Africa...

Where would be a good place to spend New Year’s Eve in South Africa?

This question was posed on a forum on the Yahoo search engine a few weeks ago. One contributor suggested: “Try out Hillbrow in Johannesburg! You will catch all the action-stabbings, shootings, fridges and washing machines thrown out of windows and lots more…”

The perception of Hillbrow as hosting Johannesburg’s annual festival of violence and mayhem may continue but the truth is that those days are over. Seeking likely explanations for this, one comes across push and pull factors working together to create an inner city which seemed only a distant dream a decade or so ago. Not only is the SAPS and City Council striving for a clean, safe and user-friendly inner city, but neighbourhoods are drawing together to make the inner city their home. The collaborative efforts and projects organised by building owners, housing managers and caretakers, city departments and policing officials over the past three years, are bearing fruit. “It’s nothing like it was in previous years” said one Hillbrow building owner as he recalled the gunshots that came from neighbouring buildings, and the streets strewn with broken glass.

Preparation for “A Safe and Happy New Year” weekend took place for months before. Campaigns in two organised residential areas (eKhaya – “at home” in Hillbrow and Legae La Rona – “Our Place” – in Berea) included meetings of caretakers and housing managers with community sector policing officials and city officials, display of posters in all buildings, and distribution of leaflets to residents in nearly 4000 flats. Residents were requested to celebrate the New Year with respect for each other and the environment, and to make it their New Year’s resolution to actively support their “Safe, Healthy and Friendly Neighbourhood”.

“We have improved a lot”, said Freedom Ndhlovu, neighbourhood security supervisor of the Legae La Rona City Improvement District (Berea), whose members are property owners in Berea. “The support of the caretakers of the buildings working together is making things better…there was nothing bad this year. On New Year’s day people were just enjoying themselves in the park.”

One owner of buildings in both Berea and Hillbrow noted that a number of factors are contributing to the stabilising of this dense inner city residential area. These include better management in more buildings, organised neighbourhood associations of property owners and building staff, increasing co-operation from residents, and better policing. A third owner endorsed the positive changes, saying that the buildings were “quiet”.

John Gololo, housing supervisor of three buildings in the eKhaya Neighbourhood in lower Hillbrow, has been a resident of Hillbrow since 1995. This was the most peaceful New Year’s Eve he has experienced the past 11 years. “We are there!” he says, attributing the progress made to the co-operation among building caretakers and housing managers. This is the result of regular meetings over the last three years within the eKhaya Neighbourhood Association in the Hillbrow area, spearheaded by Johannesburg Housing Company and formed by owners of well-managed and maintained buildings.

“Supervisors from the buildings which are part of the eKhaya programme, keep an eye out for each other. If I see a problem in the building next door, I phone the supervisor or go over and help,” says Mr. Gololo. Residents from adjacent unmanaged buildings, sometimes disturb the peace by throwing fireworks and bottles into neighbouring buildings and at vehicles and people in the streets. However, he says that some of the unmanaged buildings are starting to model the good behaviour of the eKhaya buildings.

Mr. Gololo says tenants lighting fireworks in their apartments poses a hazard. He therefore had an agreement with his tenants that they will only light their fireworks at 24:00 in the street in front of the building, ensuring their safety and keeping noise down during the evening.

The active steps taken by SAPS Hillbrow regarding liquor made a significant difference for residents this year. “Unlike last year, when liquor was sold non-stop and street drinking and loud music and shouting went on all weekend and furniture was thrown in the streets, the shebeen was quiet after 5 p.m.” said the Chairperson of a sectional title building adjacent to a Berea house-shebeen. The prompt closing of a tavern in Hillbrow was similarly appreciated by residents of the adjacent high-rise buildings. Visible SAPS presence throughout the weekend also played an important role.

Simon Modiba, Chairperson of the Hillbrow Community Policing Sector Forum said
“Hillbrow streets were clean. The meetings with caretakers and residents and hawkers, and the distribution of pamphlets is all helping. This New Year’s Eve was fine.”

According to Reggie Mosena, acting property manager of Johannesburg Housing Company (JHC), occupancy in JHC buildings indicates that more people, particularly children, are in the city during the holiday season. “This seems to indicate increasing stability and permanence of the inner city population, as well as a perception that the inner city is being seen as a place to spend your holidays instead of going ‘home’ to rural areas,” explains Mr. Mosena. He believes part of the reasons for this occurrence is the increasing element of governance, management and stability in high rise buildings in the inner city. “Buildings are increasingly well managed, and have a social base of tenants who seek to make their home in the city,” he says.

Fun over New Year’s weekend in the city was offered by the City’s Carnival procession which took place on Saturday afternoon. Floats from all regions were followed by dancers and singers and walkers from Berea and Hillbrow over the Mandela Bridge to Newtown. The happy party in the park was followed by the big concert in Mary Fitzgerald Square and late-night fireworks.

Hillbrow and Berea neighbourhoods are making the inner city their home.

Issued by:
Josie Adler
Co-ordinator of eKhaya and Legae la Rona
Tel: (011) 442 -7125

Juanita Prinsloo
Johannesburg Housing Company
Corporate Affairs Officer
Tel: (011) 241-6900