Baralink is considered to be the gateway to Soweto, the township whose image ranges from poverty-stricken and sprawling, to vibrant and cosmopolitan.
It is an area with huge buying power, yet historically it has been removed from economic developments. With the Baralink and other similar projects completed, this will no longer be the case.
The project promises to reinvent Soweto, whose development has been neglected for years, into a thriving centre of cultural and commercial activity. Parts of the township, such as Kliptown, have already received a major facelift; others, like Jabulani, Vilikazi Street and Orlando eKhaya, will follow soon.
Baralink consist of some 15 land parcels earmarked for different types of development. A project of great magnitude, it is over 10 years in the making. Many role players had to be consulted and dozens of proposals were received.
It consists of three important nodes: the Baragwanath Public Transport Facility, which was completed in 2008; the Orlando eKhaya development, a Johannesburg Property Company initiative; and the Chris Hani Baragwanath Hospital upgrade, a national and provincial government initiative in partnership with the City of Johannesburg.
Once the whole precinct is completed, it will not only be one of the key transport nodes in Johannesburg but also a major commercial hub, complete with shopping malls and mixed-income residential areas. It is expected to cost more than R100-million in total.
Redevelopment of the Baragwanath Public Transport Node and Trader Market, 2001
Baralink Development Strategy: Business Plan Report, Oct 1999
Baralink Marketing Strategy, August 1999
An Economic Assessment and Implementation Strategy, August 1999
Land Use Optimization Report, October 1999
The heart of Baralink is undoubtedly the Baragwanath Public Transport Facility and Traders Market, referred to in short as the Bara taxi rank, the biggest and busiest bus and taxi rank in Soweto. For many visitors this transport hub gives the first glimpse of Soweto.
Located on Chris Hani Road, which runs almost the entire length of Soweto, it offers high visibility and accessibility. The Johannesburg freeway grid and Western Bypass are a mere two kilometres away, while the Nancefield railway station lies adjacent to it.
More importantly, it is situated directly opposite the largest hospital in the southern hemisphere, the Chris Hani Baragwanath Hospital, which is being upgraded.
Visitors and residents disembark from this node to make their way to the hospital or to the various clusters that make up the greater Soweto area. Hawkers depend on the passing traffic, and the volume of pedestrians in and around the rank makes it a lucrative market. The informal traders peddle an assortment of goods.
The taxi rank started as a makeshift stop for buses transporting hospital staff and patients in the 1940s. Back then there were no taxis and no taxi rank; there was just a bus stop along the road.
In 1994, the Baralink Development Framework was initiated to make use of the vast tracts of land surrounding the hospital. This urban development framework, which was adopted by the City of Johannesburg, now forms the basis of development and land release in the area.
The detailed design of the Public Transport Facility and Traders Market started in 2002. And in March 2004 the Johannesburg Development Agency took on the responsibility of overseeing its development.
The upgrade to the Bara taxi rank was completed and officially handed over to the community in October 2008. It took six years and five phases, but today the Baragwanath Public Transport Facility and Traders Market plays an important role in the economic redevelopment of the area.
The project also links Soweto to the city centre and, it is hoped, will be a catalyst for commercial activity.
The first phase entailed the realignment of Chris Hani Road – then called Old Potch Road. The R10-million phase had to be finished before the others could begin and involved shifting the road to the south to run against the hospital’s boundary wall to make way for the new taxi rank and informal traders’ market. It was completed in November 2003.
Today, this impressive concrete construction stretches across about three blocks in an east to west direction. It consists of new bus and taxi ranking for vehicles, undercover protection for commuters and proper informal trader areas, also under-roof.
Pedestrians are protected from the elements by covered walkways throughout; ablution blocks have been added; while small offices, meeting and recreation rooms bring an air of professionality to the facility.
A pedestrian bridge over the busy Chris Hani Road now connects the rank with the new reception areas of the hospital on the eastern side of the facility. Along the western end, under-roof parking and trading areas accommodate long-distance taxis and buses as well as link to the nearby Lesedi Clinic.
The area is further enhanced with public art and beautiful colourful mosaics, giving it a truly classy African flair and feel. The whole facility is under 24-hour security and CCTV camera surveillance complete with its own control room.
The hub will eventually be part of the City’s ambitious Rea Vaya Bus Rapid Transit system, which will in turn feed into the Gautrain Rapid Rail link.