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Joburg’s Little Addis

THIS IS AFRICA   in 
August 29, 2014

Johannesburg’s Ethiopian community is renowned for its enterprise, but masks deeper secrets.

Johannesburg is home to a tight-knit Ethiopian community that plays an important role in the city’s bustling informal economy, but witholds deeper secrets. This Is Africa made some preliminary investigations.

The Ethiopian community along Jeppe Street in inner city Johannesburg bursts with enterprise. The area is lively with pockets of restaurants, clothing and textile stores. The quarter known as Little Addis boasts buildings that have been transformed into hybrid mixes of formal and informal trade. The names of these buildings reference Ethiopian historical hallmarks — His Majesty, Abyssinia. At face value there is an abundance of thriving industry. But is that all there is to it?

Illicit economics vs political refuge
After 1994, the South African government made concessions to welcome Ethiopian political refugees in return for Ethiopia’s support of the ANC liberation movement during apartheid. Though Ethiopia has risen from political doldrums in recent years, it still has little media freedom and many residents journey south for better prospects. In a short period, certain Ethiopians in Joburg have amassed substantial wealth, moving into some of most sought-after suburbs in the city. But according to Kirubel, a political refugee based in Little Addis, not everybody in the community is here under Home Affairs’ Section 27, which gives priority to immigrants who are in a position to make a meaningful contribution to the South African economy.

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