For nearly 50 years, systematic racial suppression and segregation gripped South Africa. While the tides turned in the early ’90s and laws were overturned, apartheid had already seeped into the country architecture. Roads, rivers, and fields functioned as “buffer zones” to separate people by race.
In 2016, photographer Johnny Miller set out to capture “the architecture of apartheid” from above. Separation gave the government the ability to reduce the black community’s access to education, high-quality jobs, and city resources, leading to extreme divisions of wealth. Miller’s drone pictures show the contrast as never seen before.
Miller shared some of his photos with us. You can check out more on his project website, Unequal Scenes.
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Cape Town is a city like no other. 'It's incredibly beautiful,' Miller says, 'and is the quintessential South African blend of first and third world.'
Black people have been disenfranchised in the country for hundreds of years. Starting in 1948, apartheid protected racism under the law.
Apartheid also brought about labels to differentiate between nonwhite people from different origins. Black people came from the Eastern Cape and spoke Xhosa, while mixed-race people, called 'coloured,' descended from slaves from Indonesia and Madagascar or were indigenous Khoisan people.
In the years following, black people were forcibly removed from their homes in rural areas and relocated into slums. The new developments were spaced apart to prevent people from unifying.
Apartheid is no longer law. But fast-forward more than 50 years from when apartheid laws were put in place, and many black residents still live in tin shacks, confined to sandy, arid areas far outside the city.
The wealthy, white people claimed leafy neighbourhoods on the Atlantic seaboard and near Table Mountain, closer to the downtown area and its resources.
'Interestingly, sometimes you have very poor communities that, for one reason or another, exist right in the middle of very wealthy neighbourhoods,' Miller says.
Miller wanted to document these areas. He used a website that turns census data into an interactive map, sorting residents by race, income, and language spoken.
Google Maps helped him identify safe zones where he could launch and land the DJI Inspire One drone. In South Africa, it's legal to fly a drone if it's not for commercial use.
The results are incredible. 'I knew that the divisions were extreme,' Miller says, 'but I didn't realise how extreme they were until I flew overhead.'
Only aerial photography could capture the difference in density between the slums and the affluent neighbourhoods.
One of Miller's favourite images shows the contrast between Alexandra, a township that Nelson Mandela once called home, and the 'Manhattan-like' metropolis of Sandton.
His photos have been seen by hundreds of thousands of people around the world, prompting a wide range of reactions, including some bigoted commentary.
'People are fearful of the unknown, of someone with a different language, a different colour, a different culture,' Miller says. 'And that fear is understandable and based on history and circumstance, but it's also got to change.'
Miller has teamed up with Code For Africa, a grassroots organisation that digitizes and releases data, to promote the use of technology in journalism.
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