After 1990 and the collapse of Apartheid, migration to South Africa (and to Johannesburg in particular) from the region, the continent and the rest of the world has dramatically increased. Actual demographics of immigration to South Africa are exceedingly difficult to grasp, and they entail very heated political debates within the country. Perhaps a reasoned estimate of foreigners from all over Africa – legal and illegal – is between one to three million, although the numbers may be rising due to the on-going Zimbabwean crisis. Origins of migrations to Johannesburg include Zimbabwe, DRC, Mozambique, Namibia, Lesotho, Somalia, Nigeria and other parts of South Africa. Furthermore, mixed and precarious legal statuses also contribute to situate many migrants socially, economically and geographically. These facts have important ramifications for shaping public discourse, public spaces and the city as a whole. It is critical to bear in mind that Johannesburg is a city characterized by extremely high levels of intolerance and xenophobia, even leading to terrible riots in 2008.
Foreigners make up the majority, particularly in the neighbourhoods of Johannesburg. Project research is being undertaken in the district of Hillbrow (estimated population 97,000). Formerly a ‘Whites only’ area, Hillbrow has become a central site for migration from townships, from throughout rural South Africa and from all over Africa. Important public spaces for GLOBALDIVERCITIES research are Hillbrow Market, Pretoria Street and Berea Park.