Most of South Africa’s population live in unincorporated areas outside of cities and towns, in the townships. One can see Table Mountain and Cape Town, proper, from these areas, but few ever get to experience the life of the city. The average South African wage earner makes less than $1 per day, with more than 24 million people “officially” earning between 0–50,000 Rand/year (2010 statistic; $5499 USD in 2013). This population is primarily Black, not having seen appreciable economic gains since the country began governance under the African National Conference (ANC) in the mid 1990s.
There are several large townships outside of Cape Town; the most well known of which include Khayeltischa, Gugulethu, and Langa. These areas began as dormitories for the male day laborers needed for the city to function. Initially, women were banned from employment in the city and wives were not allowed to join their husbands. But, as families continued to migrate to the area, and the Apartheid government couldn’t respond, shacks were constructed in the Old Crossroads area, leading to the development of the Townships.
Even after the informal settlements were bulldozed or destroyed by the police, new houses were erected soon thereafter, replacing the ones lost. Homes constructed from scrap and salvaged materials, corrugated metal siding and roofs, cargo pallets and castoff wood, are the norm. Small, cramped quarters for large and extended families are stacked side by side, kilometer after kilometer, across the Cape Flats.
Khayelitsha, or the “New Home” in Xhosa, was established in 1983 in the Cape Flats for all illegal Black settlers who had lived in the area for at least ten years. This one township, alone, covers an area of about 47 km2 (>18 mi2) wherein ~1.5 million people live. Khayelitsha is considered to be the fastest growing, largest single township in South Africa. And, as in any city of more than 1 million people, the same services necessary for the “city” to function also are found here.
Local, small grocery stores and other services, including hair salons, cell-phone shops, and shebeens (illegal bars under the former regime), generally are run out of abandoned and converted shipping containers. These are left in the port by shipping concerns which have unloaded their goods and are unwilling to return the containers because their weight will require more fuel consumption on the empty ride home. Over the past decade, better supplies of clean water, found in centralized taps serving several hundred homes, and electrical services have come to the area.
Fruits, vegetables, and meats often are sold along the streets from temporary, yet permanent, “store” fronts. Nearly half of the Khayeltischa population is employed, with the majority employed as domestic workers (~20%) or service workers (~15%). Others work as skilled or unskilled manual laborers or are found in the security services industry. Nevertheless, nearly 90% of households in the Township are either moderately or severely food insecure.
Prior to South Africa hosting the World Cup in 2010, conditions in the townships were variable, with inept or nonexistent city services and a languid attitude towards sanitation. In an effort to bring about improvements in basic living conditions, promised since the democratically elected ANC came to power in the mid 1990s, new housing subdivisions, in close proximity to the N1 highway along the route from Cape Town’s International Airport and the city center, were constructed. But, these efforts haven’t made much of a dent in the overall need of the average South African citizen living in these areas.
Education is a key component for economic development and social uplift. But, not all children have this opportunity, especially those who are without an official birth certificate. These children don’t belong to the state, and services for them are often denied. The Chris Hani Independent School in the Joe Slovo section of Langa, was established to care for and educate these children. Early on, the project received a boost from Oprah Winfrey’s Angel Network and the TCD Trust has been providing support over the past years. Even with such support, classes in 2005 were taught in converted shipping crates with over crowded conditions and minimal staffing. But, some education is better than no education, and it is believed that the children educated here will become productive members of a new South African society.