Johannesburg: North and South

Johannesburg has grown since the city began in the 1886. Distinct area have emerged in this time, particularly the northern and southern suburbs. These suburban areas each have a unique history and particular perceptions attached to them.  

Johannesburg is the largest city in South Africa with an estimated population of almost four and a half million people, according to 2011 Stats SA numbers. The city is not only large but greatly diverse when it comes to people, wealth and social experience.

In the last 50 years a migration out of the city centre to suburban areas has taken place as the city has expanded. Rapid growth, cheaper property and high crime rates have caused people to move to areas on the outskirts of town.

The movement from the city centre to the outskirts resulted in different social expectations and stereotypes that have developed between suburbs towards the North and South of the city.

The North

The north of Johannesburg, generally referred to as “The North” is a collection of more affluent areas that extend from Houghton to Sandton.  Once a series of estates, farms and rural villages such as Rivonia, which was a stopping point on the road to Pretoria during the 1930’s, the northern suburbs quickly became a large commercial and residential area in the 1970’s.

According to, a commercial rush in the 1980’s lead to the commercial growth of Sandton as property was cheaper and more spacious than the Johannesburg CBD. Today Sandton is the second largest corporate trading area in South Africa, after Johannesburg CBD and is home to major corporations such as the Johannesburg Stock Exchange (JSE) and about 10 percent of South African JSE listed companies.

The high volume of high-end shopping centres such as Sandton City and Rosebank Mall, the Sandton Convention Centre, which is the largest convention centre in Africa, the accessibility of the northern areas by public transport such as the Gautrain and Gautrain busses and the high number of corporate property means that much of Johannesburg North caters for more opulent and corporate lifestyles.

“People think we [those who live in Johannesburg northern suburbs] are rich, arrogant, snobs that drive fancy cars. I think the south is more like, I don’t want to say poor people but the more farmy-type, they like open spaces and they don’t like city life.” said Caitlyn O’Shaughnessy, 1st year BA.

The South

The south of Johannesburg, generally referred to as “The South” can be considered the working to middle class residential area which stretches from Turffontein to Thokoza. The south is a combination of residential and industrial area that is generally associated with the more “rough” members of Johannesburg society.

“It’s distinguished that if you’re from the south you’re ratchet [unintelligent, reckless or promiscuous], it’s called the dirty south, because that is where all the ratchet people are. If you’re from the north, it’s all your rich kids and things like that” said Thabiso Funde, 2nd year BA.

Why people live where they do

Many students still live with their parents or in residences close to the university but convenience and proximity are the most common reason given for why people might live where they do.

“I think proximity, making it easier to get certain places but also, I know my family has lived in the northern suburbs our whole lives so our social circle is there… our lives are set in the area we live” said Cassidy Doig, 1st year BA.

“If people move it’s basically for convenience, maybe with university or work or it’s because of your friends, if your friends are going to stay somewhere then you’d want to live near them” said Tayyibah Ebrahim, 3rd year BSC Genetics.

Coming from Limpopo and now living in the centre of Johannesburg while he studies, Ashley Makondo, 3rd year BSC Chemistry said he hasn’t spent time in either the north or the south and even though Johannesburg is “a notorious city” it is a nice place to live in. “People are moving back to town” said Makondo.

According to property consultant Desire Hide, the biggest factor that influences why people live where they do is affordability.

“Perceptions of certain areas, whether the area is seen as good in terms of class or status, amenities like shops and schools and travelling distance to work” all contribute to people’s decisions to stay in a specific area said Hide.

The commercial move from Johannesburg city centre north was initially caused by the high price and small size of office space in the city compared to the lower price and luxury in the Northern suburbs during the early 1980’s.

According to property sales website Property24, average price of property in Johannesburg North today is between R3-million and R5-million compared to R1-million five years ago. Property in Johannesburg South goes from R600-thousand and R2-million today, depending on the specific area, compared to between R500-thousand and R800-thousand five years ago.  The difference in Johannesburg north and south property prices show that affordability may guide people’s decision as Hide suggests.

The perceptions of the northern and southern areas combined with the financial constraints of the area are major contributing factors as to why people choice to live in certain areas. Many people remain in areas where their family have lived for generations and so the stereotypes and perceptions of “the other” are often secured in society.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s