South African Population Research
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Trailblazing research in the Gauteng HDSS leads across a sewerage flow

16 March 2022

The Gauteng Research Triangle - Initiative for the Study of Population, Infrastructure and Regional Economic Development (GRT-INSPIRED) is making steady progress in collecting data for the baseline of the health and demographic surveillance system node. They are registering every bounded structure, dwelling, household, and individual in highly urban settings in three locations in Gauteng, namely, Hillbrow in central Johannesburg, and Atteridgeville and Melusi in western Pretoria.  This is the first urban node in the South African Population Research Infrastructure Network (SAPRIN), which will add a key dimension to the research. The node will form part of the national information system that government uses to provide evidence for targeting public policies in emerging health crises, such as AIDS, Covid-19 and non-communicable diseases, and socio-economic challenges such as unemployment and labour migration.

Each of the three parts of the urban node offers a different settlement pattern. Hillbrow is densely populated with population densities peaking around 70,000 people per square kilometre. Each building has multiple storeys, and apartments may house multiple households, and its own administration and entrance control structure which are some of the unique challenges of fieldwork. Atteridgeville is an old part of Western Pretoria which is formally settled, but the team discovered a dense informal settlement within the township, also known locally as Gomorrah.
In Melusi the settlement pattern is one of rapid change as new people arrive to join the expanding informal settlement, and the local sphere is also seeking to relocate people out of the wet lands of Melusi to a drier space … 15km away. In this picture we can see Prof Rhena Delport and a fieldworker, Rufus Maboka, standing above sewerage flowing down the hill that they need to cross for an interview. Although Melusi is an informal settlement we are wrong to think of everyone as poor. There is a good car and DSTV dish at the dwelling on the right, but on the left a cluster of abandoned shacks. The settlement as a whole includes these kinds of contradictory findings, warning us that with SAPRIN allowing us to see ‘under the skin’ of the obvious exterior – high-rise, township, informal – lay a host of intricate and complex issues that need to be unpacked and understood.