Hidden Spaces and Urban Health: Exploring the Tactics of Rural Migrants Navigating the City of Gold

Abstract

Urban health practitioners working in African cities require an in-depth understanding of the context within which they work in order to plan and implement effective urban public health programmes. This paper provides insights into the complexities of the urban African environment and its residents by describing and analysing the tactics employed by a population of rural migrants as they enter and navigate the City of Gold: Johannesburg. This population resides within inner-city areas that are broadly disconnected from local government initiatives, that I term here as ‘hidden spaces’. Reflecting on personal experiences and involvement in participatory photography and film projects within these ‘hidden spaces’, the paper considers the concept of ‘being hidden’ as something that can be both a deliberate tactic employed by particular urban populations to evade the state, and as a result of marginalisation where the state bypasses groups in need of intervention.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    During apartheid, cities were ‘off-limits’ to most black South Africans, who required special permission and permits in order to enter the city.

  2. 2.

    This paper considers ‘urban poor’ groups as those that fall within Mitlin and Sattherwaite’s definition of urban poverty: a concept covering a multitude of interlinked “deprivations” (Mitlin and Satterthwaite 2004: 11). Here, HIV is considered an additional urban deprivation (Vearey 2008).

  3. 3.

    Known locally as Mpilonhle–Mpilonde (Quality Life—Long Life in isiZulu), this intervention has been described elsewhere (Vearey 2003, 2006; Vearey et al. 2005; Vearey and Oliff 2006).

  4. 4.

    The province is responsible for maintenance of the physical hostel structures, the City is liable for the water, electricity and waste management costs. The men living in the hostels no longer pay rent to the City; it appears that where rent is collected, it is paid to the Induna.

  5. 5.

    Results in this section are taken from a cross-sectional community based behaviour and prevalence survey, conducted by the RHRU in 2004. A random 10% of the population was sampled. Results have been presented at several conferences and symposium (Vearey et al. 2005, 2007; Vearey and Oliff 2006).

  6. 6.

    The IFP is the Inkatha Freedom Party. Historically a Zulu nationalist party, the IFP attempted to gain independence for a Zulu Nation in the build up to the first elections. Bloody riots and fighting between IFP aligned hostel residents and ANC supporters from the townships took place along the Witwatersrand in the early 1990s. Several of the hostels in the Benrose area hold historical fame for their involvement in rioting and fighting in the inner-city of Johannesburg. The hostels acted as ‘recruitment sites’ for the fighting; residents would travel back to KwaZulu-Natal and recruit young men, bringing them back to the hostels in Johannesburg to participate in the fighting.

  7. 7.

    This paper contributes to doctoral research into the persistent urban health challenges of migration and informal settlements in the context of HIV, through which a framework to guide appropriate local-level developmental responses is being developed

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Acknowledgements

Many thanks go to the residents of the ‘hidden spaces’ described above. The author is very grateful to Jacob Rasmussen and Loren Landau for their useful comments on the early drafts of this paper. The NEWAR Network is also warmly thanked. The author acknowledges the STI/HIV Research Directorate of the Reproductive Health and HIV Research Unit, Wits where the author was based between 2003 and early 2007, and the European Commission who provided funding for the Mpilonhle–Mpilonde programme. The author acknowledges the contribution of Monique Oliff, Jillian Gardner, Witness Moyo, Sinead Delany, Helen Rees and the fieldwork team in the design and implementation of the Mpilonhle–Mpilonde programme, and initial data analysis. The author warmly thanks the participants of the photography and film projects, MPW staff, PDP students and Day Fifty films for their commitment, involvement and energy in working to create such rich and successful participatory projects.

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Correspondence to Joanna Vearey.

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Vearey, J. Hidden Spaces and Urban Health: Exploring the Tactics of Rural Migrants Navigating the City of Gold. Urban Forum 21, 37–53 (2010). https://doi.org/10.1007/s12132-010-9079-4

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Keywords

  • Urban health
  • Migration
  • Local government
  • Informal housing