Honey, Milk and Bile-: a social history of Hillbrow, 1894–2016Report as inadecuate

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BMC Public Health

, Volume 17, Supplement 3, pp 7–15

First Online: 04 July 2017


This commentary constructs a social history of Hillbrow, an inner-city suburb in Johannesburg, South Africa, based on a review of relevant published historical, anthropological and sociological texts. We highlight the significant continuities in the social structure of the suburb, despite the radical transformations that have occurred over the last 120 years.

Originally envisaged as a healthy residential area, distinct from the industrial activity of early Johannesburg, Hillbrow was a prime location for health infrastructure to serve the city. By the late 1960s, the suburb had been transformed by the rapid construction of high rise office and apartment buildings, providing temporary low cost accommodation for young people, migrants and immigrants. In the 1980s, Hillbrow defied the apartheid state policy of racial separation of residential areas, and earned the reputation of a liberated zone of tolerance and inclusion. By the 1990s, affected by inner-city decay and the collapse of services for many apartment buildings, the suburb became associated with crime, sex work, and ungovernability. More recently, the revitalisation of the Hillbrow Health Precinct has created a more optimistic narrative of the suburb as a site for research and interventions that has the potential to have a positive impact on the health of its residents.

The concentration of innovative public health interventions in Hillbrow today, particularly in the high quality health services and multidisciplinary research of the Hillbrow Health Precinct, creates the possibility for renewal of this troubled inner-city suburb.

KeywordsSouth Africa, Hillbrow Health Social History AbbreviationsABCAbstain, Be faithful, condomise

ActstopAction committee to stop evictions

AIDSAcquired immunodeficiency syndrome

ATICAIDS Training and Information Centre

ANCAfrican National Congress

PEPFARPresident’s Plan for AIDS Relief

HIVHuman Immunodeficiency Virus

NPNationalist party

RHRUReproductive health research unit

STISexually transmitted infections


Wits RHIWits reproductive health and HIV institute

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Author: Jonathan Stadler - Charles Dugmore

Source: https://link.springer.com/

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