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Wits University Summer School 2023

The Wits-TUB-UNILAG Urban Lab held its annual summer school at the School of Architecture and Planning at Wits on 15-19 May 2023. The purpose was to bring together the trilateral partners of the urban lab, i.e., TUB (Technical University of Berlin), Wits, and UNILAG (University of Lagos), into a collaborative learning environment and strengthen intra-disciplinary post-graduate education.

The aim was also to enable capacity building, skills transfer, collaboration, co-production and broadening of inter-disciplinary knowledge among the urban management masters students at UNILAG and Wits. We hosted four masters students and four PhD students from Wits, and four masters students and four PhD students from UNILAG. Due to challenges with securing visas, the masters students from UNILAG had to join the sessions online from Lagos. We were also joined by Professor Dan Inkoom from the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology (Ghana) and Dr Nadine Appelhans, David Bauer and Lucas Elsner from TUB.

The main theme of the summer school was ‘Coming into the city from the periphery’. We used this theme to interrogate accessibility from the periphery to Johannesburg through public transportation, in particular, the Bus Rapid Transport (BRT) network (Rea Vaya), which connects the CDB to other districts and nodes, as well as former townships. In assessing mobility as well as the accessibility of the city centre, we used the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to analyse how the Rea Vaya BRT system provides or hinders opportunities for the emergence of sustainable cities and communities (Goal 11), decent work and economic growth (Goal 8) and reduction of inequalities (Goal 10). We used Soweto as our case study of the urban periphery.

On the first day (15 May) students were welcomed by our Head of Department, Professor Nnamdi Elleh, Dr Anja Hallacker from the German Academic Exchange (DAAD) office for southern Africa and Dr Mahomed Moolla, Head of Strategic Partnerships at Wits.  On the second day (16 May), Rehana Moosajee, Director and Co-founder of Barefoot Facilitator had extensive experience with the conceptualisation of the BRT system as she was the 2006-2013 Member of the Mayoral Committee for Transport City of Johannesburg. An official from the City of Johannesburg Transport Department also gave an overview of the BRT system. The day culminated in Professor Dan Inkoom’s presentation at the Faces of the City Seminar. The day’s proceedings provided a contrast to the experience students were embarking on the following day using the Rea Vaya Bus from Wits to Soweto and back, laying bare the differences between the conceptualisation, implementation and actual lived experiences.

The fieldtrip to Soweto departed from the Wits BRT station, with a stop at Thokoza Park in Soweto. Here, Tshepo Tshoadi, an established tour guide, led a walk-about, which included Freedom Square, Hector Peterson Memorial Site and the Ubuntu Kraal where we had South Africa’s favourite pap and grilled meat. The tour gave the students a sense of the environment, housing typology, infrastructure and socio-economic context of the three different areas. Most of all, students were able to experience how residents of Soweto moved through the township through the Rea Vaya bus system.

For the remaining two days, the masters students worked on their assignment, analysing whether the BRT system was hindering or providing opportunities to access the city from Soweto, also connecting their Soweto experience to the SDGs. The PhD students participated in a PhD Clinic, reflecting on their research progress. In the afternoon of the last day, the masters students had the opportunity to present their fieldwork experience and assignment. The summer school closed with a farewell dinner at the Indaba Hotel.

The summer school was made possible by the Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ) and the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD). Thank you for the close cooperation within the Wits-TUB-UNILAG Urban Lab team at all three institutions. A special thanks to Wits PI's Prof Sihlongonyane and Prof Huchzermeyer for their guidance and support. Thank you to the Head of School, Prof Nnamdi Elleh for his continued support. To the project coordinators, Lucas Elsner and Taki Sithagu, thank you for stitching together the summer school. David Bauer assisted with innovative interventions and Nkosilenhle Mavuso assisted with the fieldwork. To Zakiyyah Ayob, thanks for managing all the logistics. The guests and speakers mentioned above gave the summer school an elevated standing. The masters and PhD students conducted themselves with keen interest and respect, making the Wits-TUB-UNILAG Urban Lab team proud.