WATCH: Joburg at night – the saddest story of all

The inner-city, Hillbrow, on 21 October.

From afar, its skyline sparkles like that of any ‘world-class city’ but anyone who has seen Johannesburg’s inner city for what it truly is, knows it is far from sparkling – or at least not yet.


The Mayor of the City of Johannesburg, Herman Mashaba took over the reins from Parks Tau in August this year, and has said that change is indeed coming. He said he especially hopes that changes will come to the inner-city, and if it did not, his plan to grow the City’s economy by 5 per cent will not be possible. So in a bid to address this, he arranged a bus ride through the inner-city on 21 October, where numerous officials joined and were faced with questions from Mashaba.

After a rainy Friday night in Johannesburg's inner-city.

After a rainy Friday night in Johannesburg’s inner-city.


And just how big of a challenge the inner-city poses to be, Mashaba learned on the night. “I don’t understand how anyone can claim not to have the power to fix this,” he said.

Hijacked buildings are one of the biggest issues in the inner-city. Row upon row of high-rises have become silent giants in bustling Joburg. Young adults, the elderly and even children peek out of broken windows only to see rows of sleeping bags lined on the pavement below.

Mayor Herman Mashaba (left) and the City's MMC for Public Safety, Michael Sun in awe of the rubbish pile heaped in a hijacked building's basement.

Mayor Herman Mashaba (left) and the City’s MMC for Public Safety, Michael Sun in awe of the rubbish pile heaped in a hijacked building’s basement.


The 130-year-old city’s sidewalks have become home to 3 500 people, according to a census by the Department of Social Development three years ago. The department’s regional manager, Meshack Maluleke, said, in most cases, many of the homeless were once hopeful that the City of Gold would be their future – where their name would be written in lights, or at least where they could earn enough to feed their families.

What the basement of one of the hijacked buildings looks like. Next to this pile, are a few families living in rooms.

What the basement of one of the hijacked buildings looks like. Next to this pile, are a few families living in rooms.


“They come here, hoping to find a better life, but then they don’t. They are too ashamed to return home with nothing,” he said. So they stay, sleeping under bridges at night while watching cars during the day.

Adjacent to them, a newly renovated building that was once hijacked (but has since been expropriated and its residents evicted), is leasing bachelor apartments from R2 800 a month.

“A security guard that gets R2 500 a month can’t afford a R3 500 bachelor flat in the inner-city,” Maluleke said.

In the bus, heavily guarded by Metro police, sat Mashaba’s department heads, all of whom had to explain to him why the street lights were not on, why there is so much rubbish lining the streets and, ultimately, what can be done to restore the dignity of the people who call this home.

Keeping warm next to a dilapidated building.

Keeping warm next to a dilapidated building.

At 10.30pm, as the sobering bus ride through the inner-city came to an end, the weight of responsibility clearly built on the mayor’s shoulders. His face was one of determination to change what was, into what could be.

“I am extremely concerned with the level of high unemployment and horrible living conditions of our people. I thought everyone in public service is not interested, but this evening has given me hope again. I realise I am not alone. I am not the only person concerned,” he said to his administration when the bus arrived back at the Metro Centre.

Mashaba has inherited these problems, and has vowed to rejuvenate the inner-city to attract investors.

Will he succeed?


Chantelle Fourie
Metro Reporter

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