I am a post-doctoral researcher at the Centre for Urbanism and Built Environment Studies at Wits University in Johannesburg. My research examines public space, the perceptions, use and management thereof, and how this relates to spatial justice.
I recently completed my PhD on Gandhi Square, Constitution Hill, and Pieter Roos Park at the University of the Witwatersrand, as part of the NRF-funded project focusing on Spatial Justice and Urban Resilience.
Rhythm and connection on Rissik Street: Reflecting on public space research in inner-city Johannesburg. Anthropology Southern Africa Vol. 42, No. 1.
This paper explores how entangled layers of use and contingencies of open spaces in downtown Johannesburg, South Africa, relate to their structural, material and symbolic aspects. Reflecting on research at Pieter Roos Park, Constitution Hill and Gandhi Square, this paper emphasises the walking route that connects these three spaces, mostly along Rissik Street. It examines the rhythms of people’s navigation of the city, according to perceptions of fear and safety, opportunity and adversity, and offers an initial understanding of the continuous interaction between structure and agency. It reflects on reading about these spaces, and how this connects with walking and writing about the city, all acts with particular, overlapping rhythms. Interpreting these in relation to each other, and in relation to my own rhythms, provokes questions that unsettle linear and straightforward understandings of time and memory as well as the individual and their connection to the public. Whilst linear rhythms are predominant, subject to the working week, surprising and paradoxical practices frequently punctuate these rhythms. Both rhythms and their disruptions are influenced on a variety of levels, often linked to perceptions, which intersect with lingering histories and memory in layered, complex ways.
Imagining the Future through the Past: A Political History of Constitution Hill since 1983. South African Historical Journal Vol. 79, No. 2.
Constitution Hill is a precinct in Johannesburg that embodies a particular conception of the transition from apartheid and colonial pasts, represented by prisons-turned-museums, to an imagined future, represented by the Constitutional Court. This paper explores how its recent history of intra-governmental contestation and institutional complexities has contributed to inconsistencies in the vision for the space and an inability to fulfil its development potential. Such tensions show that the process of designing how the power of a key branch of government would be performed, and how a new public space would be used and felt, was wrought with anxiety and uncertainty. The site’s history thus provokes broader questions about how public history is conceived and presented in contemporary South Africa, largely because ideas for Constitution Hill have been so closely tied to debates over collective memories, national histories and imagining the future since long before apartheid ended. While programming and development prospects have improved in recent years, the institutional and financial difficulties continue to shape its realities, as do the unanticipated trajectories of the city and nation. As such, the former prison has been beholden to an ironic path dependency, remaining an enclave in a continuously contested present moment.
The Hartebeestpoort Irrigation Scheme: A Project of Modernisation, Segregation and White Poverty Alleviation, 1912-26. South African Historical Journal Vol. 67 Issue 2.
Hartebeestpoort Dam, situated in the Magaliesberg mountain range in what is today South Africa’s North-West Province, was conceptualised in the years leading up to 1914, with construction completed by 1925. It represented the first large-scale scheme in the country for water resource development, a true project of state modernisation carried out by the fledgling government of the Union of South Africa. Aimed at white poverty alleviation as the ‘poor white problem’ intensified, white labour was used in the construction process and a probationary agricultural settlement was established to rehabilitate ‘poor whites’ morally, socially and economically. This article outlines disagreements between the central state and various government departments, as well as opposition from local farming communities, during the construction period. These conflicts highlight the tensions between pragmatism and ideology within the increasingly segregationist state, providing an insight into the complexities involved in large-scale modernist projects of state formation. Despite delays and contestations, the government pursued the project determinedly and forced it through to completion. While South African historiography tends to view the 1924 election as a turning point in state intervention towards the upliftment of ‘poor whites’, this paper suggests a greater degree of continuity in white poverty alleviation policies between Smuts’s and Hertzog’s governments.
Selected Unpublished Work
PhD thesis: The interactions between public space and spatial (in)justice: Comparing case studies in inner-city Johannesburg