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.

Apartheid South Africa 1948 - 1994

 Apartheid was a system of racial segregation developed and implemented by the National Party government of South Africa, in order to maintain white minority rule.  It was introduced as an official government policy in 1948, under the leadership of Daniel Francois Malan.  Legislation classified individuals as black, white, coloured or Indian.  Black people were further divided into ten tribal categories.  Segregated areas were identified in which each separate race was allowed to live.

The Population Registration Act of 1950 required every adult to have an identity card specifying their race.  Where categorisation was unclear, officials would make a decision – resulting in some cases of ‘coloured’ families having some members classified as ‘black’ or ‘white’ and separated from the rest of the family. 

The Group Areas Act 1950 introduced strict racial segregation and forced removals for those found to be living in the ‘wrong’ area.  The Prohibition of Mixed Marriages Act 1949 prohibited marriage between persons of different races, and the Immorality Act 1950 outlawed sex between individuals of different races. 

Black and white South Africans accessed segregated public services, with vast differences in the quality of health care and education.  The 1953 Bantu Education Act introduced a wholly separate system of education for African students, designed to prepare them for lives as a labourers.  In 1959 separate universities were created for black, coloured and Indian people.  Public spaces were also segregated – parks, beaches, toilets, trains, hotels and even building entrances could be reserved by law for the exclusive use of white people. 

In 1950 the ANC embarked on a series of strikes, boycotts and civil disobedience actions.  More radical elements of the party split and formed the Pan Africanist Congress (PAC) in 1959.  A PAC demonstration against pass books on 21 March 1960 resulted in the shooting of 69 people by police in the township of Sharpeville.  This gave rise to massive unrest, and led to the government declaring a state of emergency. More than 18,000 people were arrested, including leaders of the ANC and PAC, and both organisations were banned. Some resistance leaders went into exile abroad, others engaged in underground campaigns of domestic sabotage and terrorism.

A series of strikes and protests in 1961 saw the police respond with arrests and detentions.  The ANC concluded that the only way forward was through armed struggle, and formed a new military wing, Umkhonto we Sizwe (spear of the nation)

South Africa and the Bantustans
Public DomainSouth Africa and the Bantustans

The Promotion of Black Self-Government Act of 1958 entrenched the National Party's policy of nominally independent "homelands" for black people. The Black Homeland Citizenship Act of 1970 made black people citizens of one of the ten autonomous territories – they were no longer classified as South African. The ten Bantustans comprised just thirteen percent of South Africa’s landmass.

Black South Africans were deemed to have no business in ‘white South Africa’ without a valid work permit, or ‘dompas.’  Spouses and children had to be left behind in black homelands. Four of the bantustans became supposedly independent states, with their own governments.

In the 1970s the Black Consciousness Movement gained ground in universities, influenced by the American Black Power movement. BC endorsed black pride.  Steve Biko was one of the movement's most prominent leaders.  

Pass books
Public DomainPass books - Credit: Bailey's African History Archive

The 1976 Soweto riots, in reaction to the compulsory introduction of Afrikaans as a teaching medium in schools, resulted in further police crackdowns.  By the 1980s, South Africa appeared to be heading for civil war and economic collapse.  Black townships became the focus of the struggle between anti-apartheid organisations and government. Resistance leaders in the townships led attacks on local authorities, who were seen as stooges of the white government.  By 1985, it had become the ANC's aim to make black townships "ungovernable" by means of rent boycotts and other militant action. People's courts were set up, and residents accused of being government agents were severely punished.  Black town councillors and policemen, and sometimes their families, were attacked with petrol bombs, beaten, and murdered by their communities. 

In July 1985, State President PW Botha declared a State of Emergency, which was to endure for the next five years.  Various organisations were banned, and individuals placed under house arrest or detained.  Detention without trial became commonplace.  Factional violence between rival political groupings escalated, resulting in a series of orchestrated massacres, as well as sporadic violence between smaller groups, across Johannesburg and KwaZulu. 

Negotiations between the government’s security establishment and imprisoned ANC leaders, principally Nelson Mandela, began in the late 1980s, and led to the unbanning of the ANC and Mandela’s release in 1990.  South Africa held its first democratic, one man one vote elections in April 1994.  20 million South Africans voted. The ANC won 63 percent of the vote.  Mandela was sworn in as South Africa's president, and a Government of National Unity established.