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Dark Buildings in the City of Gold

Photographer: Kim Ludbrook


With the consciousness of the world focused on the refugee influx into Europe the plight of many thousands of migrants in South Africa's biggest city, Johannesburg, rises to the surface. The city, known by its African name, Egoli (City of gold), to many, is the end point of a journey from neighboring states like Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Lesotho and further afield like Somalia and the Congo. Added to this, is the huge influx of rural South Africans. Most are looking for the 'pot of gold' in the city of five million people.


High on the list of places to stay is central Johannesburg with the high-rise apartments, that are end point for many of their long journeys. A major issues however, is the approximate 400 'highjacked' buildings or 'Dark buildings' as they are known which are blocks of flats that have been taken over by criminal 'landlords' who then hire out living space to the migrants who have arrived in the city. The buildings are often taken over at night by force and the original landlords and letting agents simply lose control of the building. Over the years of illegal occupation, the buildings fall into disrepair and are unsafe for human habitation. There is no running water, no waste removal, and no toilets and lights. Many of the buildings are home to drug dealers and users, criminal gangs and are in general feared buildings in the inner city that is in a process of trying to rejuvenated itself.


To get control of the 'dark buildings' evictions of all the tenants of these buildings are carried out after a court order is obtained by the legal landlord against the building hijackers. The evictions are physically done by members of the South African police forces and a private company including the dreaded 'Red-ants'; a force of workers dressed in red that physically evict the illegal tenants from the black buildings. Caught in the middle of the battle for living space in the city is thus the thousands of residents who live in the buildings and who have nowhere else to live once evicted. Some move to other 'dark buildings' others move back to rural areas of South Africa or their country of origin and some live homeless on the streets. What is clear however is the fact that the fight for proper living spaces in the city will continue as long as the migrants continue to flock to Egoli to seek a better life.