Townships of the Cape Flats
Townships of the Cape Flats

The Cape Flats consists of a vast number of townships where the majority of coloured and african people live. As is consistent with the composition of the population, most of the townships are coloured townships and only four are home to africans.

Even with exotic sounding names like Bishop Lavis, Steenberg, Hanover Park, Bonteheuwel, Manenberg, Elsies River, Langa (sun), Nyanga (Moon), Gugulethu (our pride), Khayelitsha (our new home) and many others, living in the townships is not for the faint-hearted. For the most parts, the townships are dreary places, bordering on qualifying for the description of "urban ghettoes". Houses are usually tiny and overcrowded, and in most townships, there are blocks upon blocks of flats which are equally tiny and serve as a breeding ground for gang and other unsavoury activities.

The maintenance of buildings and roads is virtually non-existent, though in all fairness, I need to record the fact that over the last ten years, some attempts have been made to make the townships look more presentable by the painting of houses and blocks of flats, tarring roads and turning big sandy fields into playgrounds. This has, however, mostly been in the coloured townships and african townships continue to look quite appalling.

Pic. Academy of Leadership/University of Maryland

An interesting phenomenon, which clearly reflects apartheid planning, is that african and coloured townships, in some cases very close to each other, are separated by open strips of land, a highway or the railway line. It is amazing how effective these strips of "no-man's land" were, in keeping african and coloured communities separated.

The case of Mitchell's Plain
Mitchell's Plain is a large, sprawling coloured township divided into several zones. When it was initially built, about 15-20 years ago, it was billed as the area for coloureds, ostensibly to house people in the middle income group. In no time, parts of it deteriorated into a major slum partly due to the fact that many people who seemingly wanted to escape the township situation, moved to Mitchell's Plain, but could not afford to live there. Mitchells Plain soon became known as Mitchell's comPlain.

The case of Khayelitsha
Khayelitsha, meaning "new home", is located miles from the urban centre and was essentially created as a dumping ground for africans who were not permitted to live in the established townships of Langa, Nyanga and Gugulethu. It is a somewhat wierd combination of formal and informal houses, with the informal (wood and iron shacks) settlements clearly visible from the main highway leading from the airport into town. Like Mitchell's Plain, it is quite close to the ocean and is built on what used to be sand-dunes.

Pic. Ken Liffiton
If you happen to be in parts of Khayelitsha on a windy day, you will easily be forgiven for thinking that you somehow got lost and ended up in the middle of a sandstorm in a desert. During winter, large parts of Khayelitsha are flooded and at least once every year the local newspapers carry pictures of people wading knee-deep while using buckets to scoop water out of their houses.
Pic. Cape Argus

On a general note- in 1993, Cape Town had a housing backlog of approximately 40 000 houses and with the numbers of people migrating from the rural areas increasing each year, so the backlog increases. One of the major priorities of the RDP (Reconstruction & Development Programme) is to build houses. Without wanting to sound unduly critical- it appears as if the battle to provide sufficient housing has already been lost.

Having said all of the above, you would probably expect me to be all negative and condemnatory of the townships... yes, I am, because I believe that everyone has the right to decent shelter. But at the same time- the township is a lekker place to be.