First-time visitors to South Africa may not realize just how unequal the country truly is. The legacy of apartheid, and the vast and growing discrepancy between the rich and poor might not be instantly recognizable at ground level, but air photographs can tell a more comprehensive story.
Until recently, airports may have been the only time visitors could get a true sense of South Africa’s divide between rich and poor. The country’s international airports are slick, efficient and much like many you’d encounter around the world. But they’re typically located on the outskirts of cities, on cheap land not far from some of the country’s so-called townships. This was where the apartheid government forced thousands of black people to live, saving the more convenient, arable and expensive land for white citizens. If you look carefully enough on approach to these airports, though, you may just spot the densely packed houses below.
Soon after arrival, it’s easy to forget these glimpses of reality. In many cases, government and city-backed housing projects have sought to create corridors of simple but attractive low-cost houses along the main roads into the hearts of bustling cities. To the uninitiated, the low-cost houses may look like they are making inroads into the country’s housing and inequality crisis. But to others, they are a thinly veiled attempt to lessen the impact of the true poverty that the country’s struggling to come to grips with.
Most of the time, poverty is closer than many wealthy residents realize, or choose to acknowledge. Much of South Africa’s workforce still has to travel many kilometers on costly, unsafe and inefficient public transport in order to reach work in the cities. As a result, many have created basic or temporary homes for themselves on the fringes of urban societies — often just a few meters away from the continent’s most impressive buildings, on disused city blocks, across divisive green belts, or on the other side of roads and highways.
Photographer Johnny Miller has spent several months documenting these scenes from above. Together with AfricanDrone, they’ve mapped out some of the country’s starkest reminders of inequality in an ongoing project titled Unequal Scenes.
All images by Johnny Miller / AfrcanDrone.org