Call for papers

A interdisciplinary symposium on Johannesburg’s Jukskei
22-23 September 2022, Johannesburg, South Africa

Hosted by the South African Research Chair in Science Communication in collaboration with Water For The Future

Academic Convenors: Prof Mehita Iqani (Stellenbosch University), Dr Jessica Webster (Stellenbosch University & Water for the Future) and Renugan Raidoo (Harvard University).

Community Engagement Convenors: Romy Stander (Water for the Future) and Lungile Hlatswayo (Water for the Future). 

Johannesburg is famous for being a major city founded far from any large body of water. Although it is true that landlocked Johannesburg has no navigable rivers or lakes that provide connections useful to industry and other capital, the small rivers and spruits that run through Johannesburg are very much a part of the city’s past, present, and future. This symposium takes as its primary object the Jukskei: prone to violent flooding, emitting unpleasant odours, carrying litter. The Jukskei existed prior to Johannesburg, but environmentally unsound development at the mouth of the river has meant that it now emerges from a storm drain (rather than wetlands) in Lorentzville, a deprived neighbourhood with high unemployment, poor services, large migrant communities, and limited economic opportunity. It then runs in culverts above and below semi-industrial areas (including through the creative hub of Victoria Yards) before joining a neglected green corridor that stretches through Bruma. From there, the Jukskei River gathers pace, trash, chemicals, and flooding potential from urban runoff as it travels through communities both very poor (like Alexandra, the oldest township in the city) and very rich (like the gated Dainfern Golf & Residential Estate and Steyn City), past those behind walls voluntarily (in the aforementioned gated communities) and involuntarily (like those incarcerated in the Leeuwenkop Prison complex). Beyond Steyn City and before joining the Crocodile River, it runs straight through the Greater Lanseria Master Plan, a “smart city” commercial and residential development that government announced at the beginning of 2021 for completion by 2030.

The Jukskei has changed Johannesburg as much as Johannesburg has changed it. This symposium on what we have tentatively called riparian urbanism is an assessment of Johannesburg’s history, development, and culture from the banks of the river that runs through it. Riparian refers to the interface between the river and the banks that define, direct and are eroded by it. Urbanism calls attention to those beings – human and nonhuman – who live at the aquatic-terrestrial boundary, how they use and manage the capricious river, and the city and urban landscapes that frame those interactions.

We invite researchers, creatives and collaborators who work with, on, and in the Jukskei’s riparian biome – including artists, activists, natural scientists, hydrologists, ecologists, urbanists, designers, historians, anthropologists, policy makers, social scientists, healers – to describe, analyse and theorise how Johannesburg and its residents relate to the temperamental Jukskei. We hope to illustrate the potential of critical interdisciplinary studies of Johannesburg to deepen social and scientific understandings of and interactions with the river.

We invite papers and presentations reporting on original research, creative practice or policy analysis from any disciplinary orientation on (but by no means limited to) the following topics in relation to Johannesburg’s Jukskei:

  • The state of the river: pollution levels, hydrological indicators, biodiversity in the stream and on the banks, flooding patterns, rates of flow, etcetera
  • The state and the river: local, provincial, and/or national government strategies, bureaucracies, responses and plans in relation to the rejuvenation of the Jukskei
  • Rejuvenating the river: what activist, public and private efforts are under way to save and clean the river? What does it mean to “save” a river? How did it get polluted and put at risk?
  • Riparian aesthetics: Artistic representations of the river, the river as muse for creative exploration and imagination
  • Riparian collaborations: ways of working together for the river and its health
  • Narrating the river: linguistic, written, textual and filmic representations of the Jukskei
  • Histories and archives of the river: the evolution of the river with and alongside the urban development of Johannesburg since its founding
  • Wealth, poverty, and inequality on the banks of the river: the role of the Jukskei in the socio-economic life of the city
  • The river as boundary: what spaces does it separate, and how does it serve as a division?
  • The river as connector: what spaces does it connect, and how does it serve to link and join?
  • Toxicity: smells, waste, pollution and toxic content in the river and the implications for those living nearby
  • Rivers in crisis: floods, pollution and their socio-economic effects
  • The meanings of the Jukskei to the specific neighbourhoods through which it passes (Ellis Park, Lorentsville, Bruma, Alex, Modderfontein, Dainfern and beyond)
  • The Jukskei and the Hartebeespoort: scientific and social links
  • Riparian futures: what might become of the Juskei? What optimistic and/or apocalyptic scenarios can be predicted, and on what bases?
  • Communicating the river: media coverage, journalistic framing, and social media discussion of the river and its challenges and opportunities
  • Data stream: what data can and is being gathered from the river, and for what analytical and policy purposes?
  • A river of stuff: visible and invisible, what is transported along the river? Where does ity come from and where does it go? What happens to these items, and how are they changed by the water and its flow?
  • Public understandings of river science: engagement and communication with river research
  • Health and the river: evidence of links between human wellbeing, disease and river pollution and toxicity
  • Leisure and the river: how does (and did and could) the Jukskei serve as a site for pleasureful, joyous and happy experiences for Johannesburgers?
  • Riparian residents: What happens to those who live near the river, and what are their diverse practices, attitudes, emotions and aspirations in relation to its flow past them?

All abstracts will be peer reviewed by an invited conference committee composed of experts from various disciplines and invitations for selected papers will be made.

Community engagement

Although this symposium is conceived of as an academic event, it is through community engagement and public-private partnerships that the activist work to rejuvenate the Jukskei river are made possible. As such, in collaboration with Water For The Future, a key partner for this event, we are committed to creating ways to integrate public engagement and interaction with the research being presented. This is intended in the spirit of open source approaches to research and knowledge dissemination, and to invite anyone interested in the themes the symposium will address to benefit from listening in and engaging. With this goal in mind, the symposium will integrate a live-streaming component that will be designed to allow any interested member of the public to public to attend virtually. We will also set up an on-site watching-listening room specially catered to members of the local neighbourhoods through which the Jukskei runs. All will be welcome and invited in advance. We also plan for a social event at which local community members and the researchers and practitioners who present at the symposium will be able to meet one another, interact and start or continue discussions relevant to the content of the symposium.

In the spirit of public engagement and community participation, we will ask all accepted presenters to commit to creating a short, accessible summary of their research writings in a poster, voice note, explainer video or infographic. These will be archived on the symposium website, and distributed to communities as needed. Support will be offered for the creation of these materials through the SA Research Chair in Science Communication.

Practical information

The symposium will take place in Johannesburg on 22-23 September 2022. A limited number of travel or accommodation subsidies will be available to scholars in need, please indicate if you would like to apply for this on submission of your abstract. Postgraduate students from Africa will be prioritised for this funding support. Visa letters, travel information and logistical support will be offered to invited speakers to facilitate their attendance in Johannesburg.

We hope to have an in-person symposium, but this of course will depend on the state of the Covid-19 pandemic and government travel rules and gathering mandates. We are open to planning for a blended online-offline event, and for virtual presentations to take place as needed, and will assess the need for such closer to the time of the symposium. Please communicate with us on submission of your abstract if you have strong preferences for either an in-person or online event. We will seek to accommodate all forms of participation, although we aspire to facilitate the kind of exchange and collaboration that comes from a face-to-face meeting as best we can.

We aim to produce an edited collection or journal special issue in 2023 as proceedings from the symposium. As such, we will invite presenters to submit full papers four months after the symposium (with an option for developmental commentary and editorial feedback from the co-convenors at the two-month mark for those authors requesting it).

There are no conference fees for this symposium. We ask presenters who have the means to consider a donation to Water For The Future in lieu of paying conference fees.

To apply to present your work at the symposium, please send a presentation title, 250-word abstract and 100-word bio to fumanim@sun.ac.za by 1 July 2022. Your email subject line must be “Riparian Urbanism + SUBMISSION”. Invitations of selected papers will be made by 1 August 2022. 

If you have any enquiries about the abstract submissions or general information about the symposium, please send an email to fumanim@sun.ac.za.