STUDENTS from the Wits University School of Architecture and Planning are working to find solutions to problems that affect Yeoville residents in their day-to-day lives.

The research programme, known as Yeoville Studio, examines a number of issues, including informal trading, housing and xenophobia, among others. It was launched by the school in February 2010 and aims to give students the opportunity to do research and fieldwork in the area, in partnership with the local community.

The City of Johannesburg’s Region F and the French Institute of South Africa are also involved in the project.

According to Claire Benit-Gbaffou, a senior lecturer at the architecture school, Yeoville Studio focuses on three aspects of sustainable livelihoods, namely street trading, housing and urban stories. “The objective of Yeoville Studio is to work closely with organisations to produce relevant and locally adapted research,” she says.

The project also entails training students at the school to work with communities and to locate their professional practice in real-life situations. The findings of the survey will be disseminated to Yeoville residents in a way that will enable them to use them for advocacy and sustainable development.

Because of its vibrancy and diversity of African cultures, Yeoville provides a perfect study area, explains Benit-Gbaffou.

Informal trading

The main focus of Yeoville Studio’s research has been on informal trading. Investigations were made on how street trading contributes to the special atmosphere in the suburb, and ways to make it more sustainable.

During the research, students examined the challenges faced by informal traders and various perceptions of street traders among shop keepers, pedestrians and street traders themselves.

Speaking about the findings, Benit-Gbaffou says some of the problems street traders in Yeoville face relate mostly to lack of management, a result of their illegal status in the country. “Legalising [their status] would contribute to their own growth, diversification and to Rocky-Raleigh development as a vibrant retail street.”

She explains that street trading offers a specific service to Yeoville residents. “Street trading contributes to street vibrancy and local identity. It is seen as attracting customers to the area and being generally good for business.”


The issue of housing will also be explored during the research, and students will work on a number of housing issues from a design perspective. “Our aim is to imagine and develop together with residents and local activists on various layers of housing design and policy.”

The absence of an inner city housing strategy that is able to provide households with affordable housing, while maintaining a balance between different income levels, has led to serious housing and urban challenges, according to Benit-Gbaffou.

“We hope that these proposals can be used for possible debate and implementation and thus positively impact on the future lives and livelihoods of Yeoville residents.”

She believes that the redesigning of housing in an existing neighbourhood in a prime location could become a new South African prototype that is multicultural and inclusive.

“The South African low-income housing policy does not address the need for cheap rental accommodation. Social housing is too costly and targets higher income earners,” she said.

Yeoville Stories

Yeoville Studio will produce books at the end of the year using the research collected over the past 18 months as well as studies being done this year.

The first book, entitled Yeoville Stories, will be a collection of narratives, photographs and the like for a mainstream audience. The second book will offer a theoretical reflection on similar material, targeted at an academic readership.

“The chapters will include a diverse array of topics from love stories to the management of xenophobia discourses in the community,” Benit-Gbaffou explains.