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Manenberg is located in Western Cape
 Manenberg shown within Western Cape
Coordinates: 33°59′S 18°33′E / 33.983°S 18.550°E / -33.983; 18.550Coordinates: 33°59′S 18°33′E / 33.983°S 18.550°E / -33.983; 18.550
Country South Africa
Province Western Cape
Municipality City of Cape Town
Main Place Athlone
 • Total 3.35 km2 (1.29 sq mi)
Population (2011)[1]
 • Total 52,877
 • Density 16,000/km2 (41,000/sq mi)
Racial makeup (2011)[1]
 • Black African 11.7%
 • Coloured 84.3%
 • Indian/Asian 0.5%
 • White 0.1%
 • Other 3.4%
First languages (2011)[1]
 • Afrikaans 71.8%
 • English 17.8%
 • Xhosa 6.8%
 • Other 3.6%
Postal code (street) 7767
PO box 7764
Area code 021

Manenberg is a township of Cape Town, South Africa, that was created by the apartheid government for low-income Coloured families in the Cape Flats in 1966[2] as a result of the force removal campaign by the National Party. It has an estimated population of 70,000 residents. The area consists of rows of semi-detached houses and project-like flats, known as the "korre".

In 1975 the area consisted of about seven corner shops and two liquor outlets. There were no adequate commercial facilities or community services. A railway line from the black township of Gugulethu divides Manenberg. Nyanga Railway Station was established to service the growing population of Gugulethu and Manenberg. The outer boundaries can be traced by following Duinefontein Road which runs, for the most part, parallel to the railway line, to where it meets Lansdowne Road to the south and Klipfontein Road to the north.

In other words, Manenberg is about 20 km away from the city centre of Cape Town. It is separated from Nyanga and Gugulethu townships by a railway line. It is flanked by another Coloured township Hanover Park on the west, Heideveld on the north and Nyanga on the east. Cape Town has all the hallmarks of an apartheid city, whereby the marginalized communities (Coloured, African and Indian) are located on the edges of the city. The roads, the public amenities, access to shops, access to railways, buses and access to employment were designed to put residents other than whites at a disadvantage. These policies helped keep people entrapped to this day.

The streets of Manenberg were named after rivers. The flats or "courts" were given female names such as Nellie or Mathilda Court, with the exception of the old Alpha and Omega Court, both situated at the entry point to Manenberg. The major road inside Manenberg was called Manenberg Avenue and is still a vibrant avenue filled with cars, minibus taxis and buses.

Later in the mid-1980s, because of housing shortages and problems around squatting in Manenberg, a new kind of dwelling was built. It was called a maisonette (also known as the ‘infill scheme’) and 364 of these were built. These had three bedrooms, a living room, a kitchen and a toilet. It had hot water and it was superior to all the other housing within Manenberg. Not only did the cottages, courts and maisonettes (infill scheme) form part of the establishment of Manenberg, other buildings and amenities sprang up. These were the different primary and high schools, the Silvertree Youth Centre, the Shawco building, shops, several churches, clinics, housing estate offices, community centres, soccer and netball fields and what would become the infamous Club Montreal venue in Sherwood Park.

It is argued here that the housing conditions and the basic design of Manenberg played a major role in how this community took it upon themselves to resist and partake in the call for making South Africa ungovernable. Residents of Manenberg have had a long and strong tradition in being involved in the anti-apartheid movements during the 1970s to 1990s. From the national 1976 riots to the meat boycotts of 1981 to the United Democratic Front UDF and Mass Democratic Movement era of the early to late 1980s. Manenberg had activists that helped make South Africa ungovernable, many of which were trained by the African National Congress ANC in the underground movement.

Early activism in the 1970s and 1980s in Manenberg

Community activists like Faldielah de Vries, Frank Gutuza, Rushdi Majiet, Keith Karl Dumas and others mobilized residents in Manenberg around the housing and living conditions. Grassroots newspaper was a newspaper that was started in 1980. It gained a reputation for being part of the alternative press movement in the 1980s. It was the first of a series of anti-apartheid community newspapers, with a circulation that grew up to 20 000. It is through Grassroots that we gain glimpses into activities in Manenberg and other townships. A Grassroots article dated March 1980 “Manenberg Tenants Stand Firm” explains that 600 residents protested against broken toilets, unpainted homes and formed the Duinefontein Tenants Association (DTA). Mr. Rushdi Majiet was elected chairperson and he had a committee of twelve people who assisted residents in drawing up petitions against rent increases. The Association has elected a steering executive consisting of Mr. Frank Gutuza, a director of the Silvertree Youth Centre and Mr. Majiet as chairperson.

From the 1970s right through the 1990s, numerous community and civic movements and organisations were established making inroads into garnering support for the betterment of Manenberg. These organizations were the Manenberg Civic Association, Manenberg Educational Movement, the Manenberg Youth Organisation, Manenberg Area Committee, Call of Islam, Minister‟s Organisation, Manenberg People’s Centre, Duinefontein Tenants Association, Students‟ Health and Welfare Centres Organisation SHAWC, Silvertree Youth Centre, Self Help Manenberg, Salvation Army, Community Counselling Training Centre, Urban Renewal Organisation and the Manenberg Community Police Forum.[3]

In the early days of Manenberg’s existence there were already civic organizations that were trying to organize residents around issues such as rent. Another headline in Grassroots read, “Manenberg shows the way forward.” Different groups operating in Manenberg decided to work together to achieve unified action to deal with issues faced by residents in the area. The article mentions that the Manenberg Tenants Association and the Manenberg Educational Movement made a decision to work together. There was also the growing awareness of the need for a strong organisation which would be the voice of the people in Manenberg. Another article read: “Belinda Court organizes,” residents in the court constituted a court committee and rallied around maintenance issues and decided to work together. This was reminiscent of the old days in District Six, where people worked together. Grassroots reported on one such incident, where the headline read: “We have the power to fight evictions – Manenberg Civic.” The story focused on how residents marched to the rent offices demanding affordable prices. It stated that: “Houses, security and comfort are basic human rights not privileges. In Manenberg, however, people have to fight to get and keep a roof over their heads. Here, evictions take place at a rate of twenty a week, a spokesperson for the Manenberg Advice office said.”

During the 1980s in Manenberg, a core group of people became part of a resistance movement that would mobilize, persuade people, conscientize people and convince people to take up arms, to make Manenberg ungovernable. The group was part of a wider network of activists throughout the country. Some of them went into exile where they were influenced or trained by others and in turn they came back to influence others. A new culture of resistance was born. These anti-apartheid activists were Mario Wanza, Faghie Johnson, Owen Munro, Irvin Kinnes, Christine Jansen, Faldielah de Vries, Emily Fairbairn, Mark Splinters, Maqbool Moos, Mickey Adams and many others. Most of these activists were influenced by the 1976 riots and agreed that Manenberg has had a rich history in playing a significant role in the 1976 riots and the uprisings of the 1980s within the Western Cape. Thus activism in Manenberg was nurtured in the 1980s at the three high schools in the area, namely Phoenix High, Silverstream High and Manenberg High through politically aware and militant educators.

So in the 1980s there were two distinct groupings in Manenberg, the one group which was more moderate and more visible and the other group which was an underground militant group who organised tyre burnings, throwing stones and petrol bombs at targets and later resorted to taking up arms. The latter were trained inside Manenberg. The first grouping consisted of thirteen people, who were mainly teachers and students from the three high schools in Manenberg. This group was called Manenberg Action Student Congress (MASCO), who had several teachers in it.

The second grouping, Manenberg Action Committee (MAC), was more militant in nature and its membership was changing. Some activists belonged to both groupings playing both a visible and hidden role. They met secretly in the Manenberg library planning their military operations inside Manenberg. All members of the two groups constituted the inner circle of activists that operated in Manenberg in the 1980s.

Mario Wanza, Irvin Kinnes, Faldielah de Vries, Faghie Johnson, Mark Splinters, Maqbool Moos, Cameron Williams, Selwyn Daniels, Owen Munro and Mickey Adams were part of the first group, which was more moderate in nature. Shaheed Petersen, Mickey, Mario, Hattas, Faghie, Owen and others belonged to the second more militant group. These men and women helped change Manenberg forever.

The area over the years has become overcrowded and living conditions problematic with a high incidence of crime, gangsterism and social disturbance emerging. Manenberg was featured in the National Geographic television series Taboo: Blood Bonds for its street gangs, particularly "The Americans", "Hard Living" and "Clever Kids."

Graffiti exhibits portraying gangster life are prominent in Manenberg. Tupac Shakur features strongly in exhibits of the Hard Livings gang due to his rap lyrics detailing life in poverty.

The feature documentary Manenberg[4] (2010) by directors/anthropologists Karen Waltorp & Christian Vium (Denmark)[5] gives an intimate portrait of Fazline and Warren, two young people from Manenberg, who are coming-of-age under difficult circumstances. The film raises familiar questions about poverty and power, through the voices and experiences of two young people born into an uncompromising world. One of the most piercing questions of the film is about the power of place in determining oneʼs future. The documentary is based on Karen Waltorp's fieldwork in Manenberg from 2005 to 2009. Manenberg has been awarded a number of prizes, among which are The Basil Wright Film Prize by The Royal Anthropological Institute in 2011, Best Film in the New Nordic Voices Competition of Nordisk Panorama 2011, as well as Best Film at Auburn International Film Festival 2011.

The famous and well respected jazz pianist Abdullah Ibrahim has a composition named "Mannenberg" after the township. In the 1980s students used music, drama and poetry to air their frustrations against the racist regime. The activists used official school cultural programmes to air their political affiliations and to political educate students. Manenberg throughout those early days has had a rich history of minstrel (Kaapse Klopse) music and several minstrel teams still emanate from this part of Cape Town. It is a part of the slave history of Cape Town. But Manenberg was also a jazz hub where struggling musicians plied their trade at Club Montreal in Manenberg, where the like of Basil ‘Manenberg’ Coetzee, Jonathan Butler, and others played. A very successful jazz venue later opened in Adderley Street and then later at the V&A Waterfront called Manenberg Jazz Café. Music in Manenberg is encouraged through cultural and church programmes.



  1. ^ Part of this article is a summarised excerpt of my MA Thesis. J. Jacobs (2011) Manenberg: Then and Now: Activism in Manenberg, 1980 to 2010. Unpublished thesis (MA), University of the Western Cape.