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News and Resources

Changing the heart of communities in Johannesburg

News and Resources
By Amy Juschka, former Rooftops Canada intern
It’s a sunny Friday afternoon and the streets of Hillbrow, a densely populated, inner-city neighbourhood in Johannesburg, South Africa, are alive with activity. Children are wandering home from school, a group of boys are playing a game of soccer on the outdoor community pitch and three girls are sparring in Hillbrow’s very famous old boxing ring.
One would never know that this bustling neighbourhood has been widely described as one of the most dangerous slums areas in South Africa. Thanks to a number of community-driven revitalization initiatives, Hillbrow is being transformed into a vibrant and healthy community.
My internship with Rooftops Canada’s partner Madulammoho Housing Association (MHA) connected me with one such initiative - the eKhaya Neighbourhood Improvement District project. (eKhaya means “home” in isiZulu.) MHA is a key stakeholder in Ekhaya which was initiated by another Rooftops Canada partner, the Johannesburg Housing Company. The project includes local businesses, property owners, private landlords and social housing institutions. Building owners are working closely together and with a local security firm to take back the streets and buildings from gangs and promote sustainable neighbourhood development that engages the residents.  
With 17 members and encompassing 15 city blocks, eKhaya organizes sporting activities, reclaims parks and green space and has set up neighbourhood safety patrols and cleaning services. The tenants of MHA were the recipients of a generous World Cup legacy—a five-a-side soccer pitch donated by the 2010 finalist team from the Netherlands. (Click here to see the court in action.) The court will also host a soccer and life-skills program that pairs former professional football players with local youth.
“Five years ago we used to walk through this neighbourhood and see alleys covered in garbage,” mused Josie Adler, eKhaya’s dedicated organizer, at an eKhaya meeting. “Kids had nowhere to play. People didn’t look out for one another. But today the alleys are clean and Hillbrow is a place where people want to live.”
“Madulammoho has been making major inroads in Hillbrow with housing and social development,” says its Chief Executive, Renier Erasmus. “The soccer pitch is part of a larger plan to make this neighbourhood a community.” MHA provides clean, safe and affordable housing, and its partner, MES, provides social services. MHA and MES have also benefited from a partnership with Toronto’s WoodGreen Community Services facilitated by Rooftops Canada.
Hillbrow is undergoing a grassroots community revitalization—one that honours traditional African notions of community and collectivity. “It is only through working together that we can make this a better place to live,” says Adler.