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Striking images of economic inequality

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The rebuilt shacks were separated by a land buffer, with fencing to separate Strand — the wealthier housing settlement — from Nomzamo, South Africa. PHOTO | JOHNNY MILLER 

By Julius Barigaba

Posted  Saturday, December 17   2016 at  11:30

In Summary

  • Although the reality may not be obvious to an ordinary city dweller on either side, including city planners, US born photographer Johnny Miller has helped capture the divide. The images are devoid of bias, and present the gulf between the lives of the wealthy and the poor.
  • New arrivals in cities are likely to live in slums, partly because of their economic means, but also because of historical policies of apartheid in South Africa and colonial zoning in Kenya, Uganda, India and Mexico.

Rising populations and rapid urbanisation are some of the biggest opportunities of our time, economists say. But these global trends present a challenge for city planners to undo the inequality that has been shaped by history.

From Kampala to Nairobi to Cape Town, and Mexico City to Mumbai, more people are moving to urban centres every day in search of jobs. In Uganda, some 40,000 people migrate to Kampala every week, and 60,000 in India and China are joining cities daily.

“The numbers are staggering for the physical and urban planners,” said Francis Kamulegeya, a senior partner at PricewaterhouseCoopers Uganda.

In South Africa, between 1996 and 2012, cities accounted for 75 per cent of jobs created, and the United Nations estimates that 71.3 per cent of the country’s population will live in cities by 2030.

The challenge, according to Andries Carl Nel, the Co-operative Governance and Traditional Affairs Deputy Minister, is that urban poverty is increasing in South Africa’s townships, informal settlements and inner cities.

New arrivals in cities are likely to live in slums, partly because of their economic means, but also because of historical policies of apartheid in South Africa and colonial zoning in Kenya, Uganda, India and Mexico that created enclaves for each class.

Unequal Scenes

Although the reality may not be obvious to a city dweller on either side, photographer Johnny Miller has helped capture the divide. Using his Inspire drone, the Seattle-born photographer, who moved to South Africa five years ago, has taken aerial photographs that he refers to as “visual metaphors of inequality.”

From November 7 to 9, Miller exhibited his photo project, titled Unequal Scenes, at the University of Witwatersrand in Johannesburg; he said his project started as a hobby but has grown bigger than he imagined, attracting mainstream and social media coverage, and has taken him to several cities around the world.

Hout Bay next to Imizamo Yethu, a settlement in

Hout Bay next to Imizamo Yethu, a settlement in Cape Town. Despite the high gates and concrete fences, separating the rich and poor, residents on either side say they don’t feel safe. PHOTO | JOHNNY MILLER

The most unequal scene taken is of Mexico City’s slum of Neza, a gigantic concrete network of houses, with an over one million population. Kidnapping is routine, so locals are suspicious of anyone filming their residences.

Masked police officers and others riding on pickups mounted with machine guns patrol the area, but locals said, “The more police they saw, the less safe they felt” according to www.unequalscenes.com.

In Nairobi, the photographer flew his drone over Loresho and Kibera. The former is a community for wealthy and poor Kenyans alike. The rich live in planned, gated communities, side by side with a slum of rusty tin rooftop houses facing all directions.

In Kibera, the houses are made of mud, sticks and tin with rusted roofs. An estimated 2.5 million people call this slum home, and have to live with the noise of a passenger train hurtling through twice daily.

Just behind two lines of rusty blocks is the greenery of the Royal Nairobi Golf Club, where one can play a round of golf and enjoy other club amenities.  

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