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Biometric evictions (2021)

In central Johannesburg more than most parts of the city, the terms upon which urban space is governed and managed have been dramatically reworked as a result of the transition from apartheid. Having evolved as a corporate and residential space designated for white occupation under apartheid, established models of producing, owning and renting residential buildings in these spaces no longer functioned in many downtown buildings from the 1990s. Indeed, some inner-cities became signifiers of the apparent ungovernability of urban space and the shortcomings of the post-apartheid government (Dinath 2014, Harrison et al. 2014, Murray 2008, Wilson 2014).

Alongside these transformations, forms of governance have been developed by the state, urban entrepreneurs and users of these spaces in order to meet their various interests (Royston et al. 2017, Rubin 2014). Developers have successfully refurbished buildings for affordable accommodation (Mosselson 2017). The many buildings in districts such as Braamfontein which have been tailored specifically to private student rental on a mass scale are a case in point.

In an attempt to control access and use of their buildings, many property-owners have invested in security personnel and infrastructure, from guards to turnstiles operated through fingerprint scanners. These measures occupy an ambivalent status for tenants of such buildings. On the one hand, many residents appreciate protection from crime, overcrowding, antisocial behaviour and functioning utilities. On the other hand, they can be locked out of their own accommodation as a result of late rent payment, or other circumstances.

Whilst the mass-eviction of residents in ‘hijacked buildings’ has received some attention, the eviction or flight of residents on a unit-by-unit basis, who are unable to pay their rent, has received less attention. This pilot project, funded by the Security at the Margins network, is an exploratory study on the experiences of students and former students who have been locked out (for short or long periods) from their accommodation. It also seeks input from landlords, property managers, private security companies and other stakeholders.

The findings drawing from the pilot study have been compiled and were submitted to the Security at the Margins funders during 2020.


This project was conducted by the Gauteng City-Region Observatory in partnership with the Security at the Margins (SeaM) project (a Wits and University of Edinburgh project).


Ballard, R., Cooper-Knock, S.J., Khanyile, S., Sondzaba, S. Wafer, A. (2020). 'Locked out: Access to student accommodation in Braamfontein' in Oliveira, E. Cooper-Knock, S.J. and Veary, J. (eds) (2020) SeaM: Security at the Margins. Johannesburg: Centre for Migration Studies, University of the Witwatersrand. Pp40-42

Khanyile, S., Mapukata, S., Ballard, R., Cooper Knock, S.J. (2021). 'Lock-outs and constructive evictions amongst students and other rental tenants'. Report submitted to SeaM (Security at the Margins), the funders of the project.

Last updated 08 March 2021


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