This map plots the settings and references in My Traitor's Heart

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Johannesburg is the largest city in Gauteng, South Africa’s smallest but most populous province, with over 11 million inhabitants (22 percent of the national population).  It is the country’s economic centre.  The 2001 national census estimated the Johannesburg Metropolitan area’s population at 3.2 million people.  Taking into account the neighbouring Metropolitan area of Ekhurhuleni and adjacent districts such as the West Rand, the population numbers over 7 million. Johannesburg is one of South Africa’s most diverse cities – 73 percent of the population is black, 16 percent is white, six percent coloured, and four percent Indian or Asian.  Over 40 percent of the population is under 24 years of age. Despite being the wealthiest city in South Africa, almost 40 percent of Johannesburg’s working age population is unemployed. 

Johannesburg, city of trees
Permission Granted by Copyright Owner for Use on Book DrumJohannesburg, city of trees - Credit: Kerri

 Linden, the suburb in which Malan spent his teenage years, was originally part of an extensive farm co-owned by Johannes Jacobus Rabie van der Linde (hence Linden), and Louw Geldenhuys. In 1898, the two men divided up the land to sell off as lots. The land was 8km from the Johannesburg CBD, and took a while to attract buyers, but by the 1920s the area was beginning to take shape as a series of smallholdings, with flourishing orchards, and a large private diary. By the 1950s, the farms began to give way to suburbia. The area was favoured by wealthy Afrikaners, and became known as 'Boere Houghton' (Houghton being the posh English suburb to the north of Joburg CBD). Linden has had its share of famous residents, including Walter and his wife Albertina Sisulu.

Joburg skyline, dominated by the Hillbrow Tower
Permission Granted by Copyright Owner for Use on Book DrumJoburg skyline, dominated by the Hillbrow Tower - Credit: Kerri

Malan describes Berea, where he lived in a 'dank, verminous' flat, as a liberated zone, a place that attracted activists and political deviants. Berea, along with Bellevue, Braamfontein, Hillbrow and Joubert Park, are high-density, high-rise residential areas, adjacent to the Johannesburg city centre. The area was at its most prosperous in the 1950s and 60s. In 1946, the Johannesburg Council removed restrictions on building heights, and high-rise apartment buildings sprang up on every street. Within 20 years the number of apartment buildings had increased by 250 percent. By the 1960s the area, offering cheap rents, short leases, and proximity to the city centre, became a magnet for a wave of white professionals recruited from across Europe to meet South Africa’s skilled labour requirements (black South Africans were largely precluded from gaining professional qualifications as a result of the Bantu education system). As large numbers of foreigners settled in the area, corner cafes and book stores selling foreign newspapers and magazines sprang up. In the 1970s, a number of extremely tall buildings were erected, changing the face of Joburg’s skyline, including Highpoint (30 storeys), Ponte (54 storeys), and the Hillbrow Tower, which at 270 metres is the tallest structure in South Africa. 


Telkom Tower from the Constitutional Court
Permission Granted by Copyright Owner for Use on Book DrumHillbrow Tower from the Constitutional Court - Credit: Shannon

 As unrest in the black townships intensified following the 1976 Soweto riots, increasing numbers of Indian, coloured and black tenants began moving into the area in search of some stability, despite its designation as a ‘whites only’ zone. The police would make periodic raids, but Joburg’s flatlands were rapidly becoming ‘a grey zone.’ Indian, coloured and black tenants living in the area would often be charged much higher rentals than their white neighbours. This resulted in higher numbers of tenants per flat, as people crowded together to share costs. Businesses were simultaneously leaving the Johannesburg CBD, relocating to the suburbs. As the money drained out of central Johannesburg, the flatlands steadily deteriorated. Landlords stopped maintaining their properties, slum lords took control of many buildings, utilities were cut off, and overcrowding intensified. Since 1994, a new wave of immigrants, from West Africa and the Democratic Republic of Congo, have moved into the area.