Jump to content

Township (South Africa)

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

The town of Hankey (foreground), with accompanying township (background) on the edge of the town.
Children in a township near Cape Town in 1989
Children in a township near Cape Town

In South Africa, the terms township and location usually refers to an underdeveloped, racially segregated urban area, from the late 19th century until the end of apartheid, were reserved for non-whites, namely Black Africans, Coloureds and Indians. Townships were usually built on the periphery of towns and cities.[1][2] The term township also has a distinct legal meaning in South Africa's system of land title, which carries no racial connotations.

Townships for non-whites were also called locations or lokasies in Afrikaans and are often still referred to as such in the smaller towns. The slang term "kasie / kasi", a popular short version of "lokasie" is also used. Townships sometimes have large informal settlements nearby.


Early development[edit]

During 1900–1950 (roughly), the majority of the black population in the major urban areas lived in hostels or servants' accommodations, these were provided by employers, and the workers were mostly single men. In the period during and following World War II, urban areas of South Africa experienced a rapid period of urbanisation as the colour bar was relaxed due to the war. Neither employers nor the government built new accommodations or homes for the influx of new residents. This led to overcrowding, poor living conditions, thus, contributing to high levels of crime and violence. High rents and overcrowding led to land invasions and the growth of shack settlements, which were largely ignored by the government.[3]

By 1950, a large portion of the urban black population lived in townships. In 1950, upwards of 100,000 people were living in townships on the Witwatersrand area; 50,000 people lived in Cato Manor in Durban; and an estimated 150,000 black and coloured people lived in townships in Cape Town.[3]

Living conditions in the shack township settlements were poor, but they had some advantage over the other more established options, like hostels, of being cheap and largely unregulated by the apartheid-era South African Police.[3]

Apartheid: 1948–1994[edit]

In 1950, the Group Areas Act was enacted, which empowered the Governor-General to designate land for the sole use of a specific race. Under this law, black people were evicted from properties that were in areas designated as "white only" and forced to move into segregated townships. Separate townships were established for each of the three designated non-white race groups: black people, Coloureds, and Indians – as per the Population Registration Act, 1950.


Most South African towns and cities have at least one township associated with them. Some old townships have seen rapid development since 1994, with, for instance, wealthy and middle-income areas sprouting in parts of Soweto and Chatsworth. Despite their origins in apartheid South Africa, today the terms township, location, and informal settlement are not used pejoratively. However, policymakers[who?] are,[when?] as in the 1950s, once again using the term 'slums' in a highly pejorative way.[4]

Social issues[edit]

Informal settlements that are normally self established around regulated townships are faced with several social problems. Most often, the residents of informal settlements do not own the land on which their houses are built. In effect, these houses are built illegally.[5] Construction is informal and unregulated by the government. This results in a lack of access to basic services such as sewerage, electricity, roads, and clean water, which adversely affects the residents' quality of life.[5]

Infrastructure problems[edit]

Sewerage, water, and electrical infrastructure within townships are often in need of repair, resulting in a lack of sanitation due to problems with accessibility and availability. Electricity, water, and sewerage are managed by different government departments, resulting in inefficiencies in the absence of substantial coordination at all stages of the project planning, budgeting, and implementation cycle.[5]


Khayelitsha, Township along N2 road near Cape Town (2015)

The sewer systems within townships are poorly planned and constructed.[citation needed] The population of townships typically grows faster than what the infrastructure was planned for, causing overloads that result in blockages, surges, and overflows. There often are only a limited number of public toilets that are overused, abused, and quickly become health hazards for the communities. Another issue is poor access to maintenance activities, which is caused by a lack of space between houses. Some of the areas on the township peripheries or near the riverbanks do not have access to sanitation facilities because they are not connected to the formal waterborne sewerage system.[citation needed]


A consequence of inadequate pumping infrastructure and large populations is that the water pressure in the townships is very low. Each section of the townships normally has one pump per section. The water is used for everything from washing clothes to cooking, drinking, bathing, and cleaning the house. Having limited water accessible to each section makes it very hard to meet the daily water needs per household.[5]

The only water pump in that area of the township

[citation needed]


Illegal electricity connections are all-pervasive in the townships with electrical wires strung along the trees leading to power boxes. Although dangerous, every house in the area has a wire coming out of it and every wire is known by their owner in order to fix problems as soon as they arise.[6] Most of the sub-stations are very unsecured to begin with so having so many additional wires coming from them is very dangerous for the people nearby and the kids playing in the area. The electricity infrastructure has not undergone upgrades because of the government's disinclination to encourage power usage by non-residents.[5][neutrality is disputed]

Electricity wires in a township near Cape

Flood risk[edit]

Some townships, such as Alexandra and Diepsloot, are built near rivers, and on flood plains. These areas are extremely dense with only tortuous, narrow access, few communal water points and banks of chemical toilets on the peripheries of the settlements. The settlements are beginning to be built in the old tributaries due to the continuing growth of the townships. Constructing houses in the dried up tributaries is a potential problem in the event of a large storm as the tributary starts to fill up with water again or in case of a backup of sewerage coming into the tributary. The houses built in that area stand the risk of being destroyed by natural occurrences. As the area grows, the tributaries are piped and a number of concrete aprons and gullies are constructed over the tributary into which the communal water points drain. The gullies are then choked with garbage and the tributaries appear to be substantially blocked but this will not hold off the water for very long if a flood comes through.[5] Due to overcrowding, residents choose to build on river banks in hopes of easy access to water and laundry facilities, however, the available water is unsuitable for these purposes due to pollution, and they remain vulnerable to floods.[citation needed]

Backyard shacks[edit]

Backyard shacks are additional units on a plot of land that are rented out by the land owner for additional income. Plots of land designed for single-family houses have been turned into plots, that, on average hold six families instead of one.[5] These structures are illegally built in violation of planning and building codes and strain the infrastructure. Governments are loath to act on backyard dwellings, as doing so would result in large-scale displacement of people.[citation needed] A 2001 study of the township called Diepsloot near Johannesburg showed that 24% of the residents lived in brick structures, 43% were in shack areas, and 27% were in backyard shacks.[6]


Schoolboy at the Lukhanyo Primary School, Zwelihle Township (Hermanus)

Township schools are often overcrowded, and lack adequate infrastructure.[citation needed] There is a high dropout rate among poor youth, particularly around Grade 9.[citation needed][7] Despite government interventions, education outcomes remain skewed, with township students continuing to under-perform.[citation needed] This skewed distribution is mainly attributable to higher and more rapid drop-out rates among the poor, rather than to a lack of initial access to schooling.[8] The formerly white schools uniformly produce better results as their governing bodies are able to raise substantial private funds. These funds are used to get resources that are usually inaccessible for the rural and township schools which survive on the commitment of their teachers.[8]

Gangs and violence[edit]

Gangs are a problem in townships and children as young as 12 or 13 get initiated into local gangs. Some see violence and gangs as a way of life and a part of their culture.[citation needed] The weapon of choice for most is a gun and with easy accessibility anyone is able to get one.[citation needed] It is estimated that out of the 14 million guns in circulation, in South Africa, only four million are registered and licensed to legal gun owners.[9]

Largest townships[edit]

Largest townships in South Africa at the time of the 2011 census:

Township Population Neighbouring city/town
Soweto 1,271,628 Johannesburg
Botshabelo 900,217 Bloemfontein
Katlehong 407,294 Germiston
Umlazi 404,811 Durban
Soshanguve 403,162 Pretoria
Khayelitsha 391,749 Cape Town
Mamelodi 334,577 Pretoria
Mitchells Plain 310,485 Cape Town
Ibhayi 237,799 Port Elizabeth
Sebokeng 218,515 Vanderbijlpark
Mangaung 217,076 Bloemfontein
Philippi 200,603 Cape Town
Ivory Park 184,383 Midrand
Alexandra 179,624 Sandton
Phoenix 176,989 Durban
KwaMashu 175,663 Durban
Vosloorus 163,216 Boksburg
Mdantsane 154,576 East London
Delft 152,030 Cape Town
Etwatwa 151,866 Benoni
Motherwell, Eastern Cape 140,351 Port Elizabeth
Tsakane 135,994 Brakpan
Thabong 135,613 Welkom
Evaton 132,851 Vanderbijlpark
Daveyton 127,967 Benoni
Ntuzuma 125,394 Durban
Madadeni 119,497 Newcastle
Embalenhle 118,889 Secunda
Kagiso 115,802 Krugersdorp
Mabopane, Gauteng 110,972 Pretoria
Galeshewe 107,920 Kimberley, Northern Cape
KwaNobuhle 107,407 Uitenhage
Saulsville 105,208 City of Tshwane
Jouberton 104,977 Klerksdorp
Thokoza 105,827 Alberton
KwaThema 99,517 Springs
Guguletu 98,468 Cape Town
Diepsloot 95,067 Midrand
Ga-Rankuwa 90,945 Pretoria
Seshego 83,863 Polokwane
Edendale 79,573 Pietermaritzburg
Osizweni 77,845 Newcastle
Orange Farm 76,767 Johannesburg
Hlubi 73,931 Newcastle
Duduza 73,295 Nigel, Gauteng
Mfuleni 52,274 Cape Town
Mpumalanga 62,406 Pinetown
Matsulu 47,306 Mbombela
Thembalethu 43,103 George, Western Cape
Mahwelereng 41,072 Mokopane
Sharpeville 37,599 Vereeniging

Legal meaning[edit]

The legal meaning of the term "township" in South Africa differs from the popular usage and has a precise legal meaning[10][11] without any racial connotations. The term is used in land titles and townships are subdivided into erfs (stands).[12] "Township" can also mean a designated area or district, as part of a place name. For instance "Industrial Township" has been used in reference to an industrial area, e.g. "Westmead Industrial Township", in Pinetown, South Africa.

Often a township (in the legal sense) is established and then the adjoining townships, with the same name as the original township, and with a numbered "Extension" suffix are later established.[citation needed] For example, the Johannesburg suburb of Bryanston has an extension called Bryanston Extension 3.[13]

Relationship with "suburb"[edit]

In traditionally or historically white areas, the term "suburb" is used for legally-defined residential townships in everyday conversation.

A suburb's boundaries are often regarded as being the same as the (legal) township boundaries, along with its numbered extensions, and it usually shares its name with the township (with some notable exceptions, such as the Johannesburg suburb known as Rivonia, which is actually the township of Edenburg with numbered extensions called Rivonia Extensions).

Occasionally, formerly independent towns, such as Sandton (which itself consists of numerous suburbs), are referred to as "suburbs".[14]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Pettman, Charles (1913). Africanderisms; a glossary of South African colloquial words and phrases and of place and other names. Longmans, Green and Co. p. 298.
  2. ^ International Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences (PDF). p. 406.
  3. ^ a b c Seekings, Jeremy; Nattrass, Nicoli (2005). "Class, Race, and Inequality in South Africa" (PDF). sahistory.org.za. Yale University Press. p. 63. Retrieved 23 May 2017.
  4. ^ Huchzermeyer, M., (2011).Cities with ‘Slums’: From Informal Settlement Eradication to a Right To The City In Africa University of Cape Town Press, Cape Town
  5. ^ a b c d e f g Interactive Planning Workshop for Johannesburg. Greater Johannesburg Metropolitan Council. Johannesburg, South Africa. 27–30 September 2000. Web. 8 October 2011. <http://web.mit.edu/urbanupgrading/upgrading/case-examples/overview-africa/alexandra-township.html>
  6. ^ a b Harber, Anton. Diepsloot. Jeppestown: Jonathan Ball Publishers LTD, 2011. 2011. 1-226. Print.
  7. ^ "Education in South Africa". SouthAfrica.info. Archived from the original on 17 June 2010.
  8. ^ a b Motloung, Hloni. "Township and Rural Schools continue to be marginalized as inequality in the education system persists commented Graeme Bloch, Education Specialist, Development Bank of Southern Africa at the Knowledge Week". Print.
  9. ^ Dempster, Carolyn (10 April 2002). "Guns, gangs and culture of violence". BBC News.
  10. ^ Birkett, Richard (August 2003). "The Survey System in South Africa". KZNLS Information Services. Archived from the original on 22 December 2018. Retrieved 21 October 2022. page 3: In an urban area, the basic unit of land is an erf. And page 5: A general plan is registered as a "township" in the Deeds Office and in he case of Durban. Hence the trend now is to frame diagrams for townships that should really be depicted on general plans.
  11. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 29 June 2011. Retrieved 12 November 2011.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  12. ^ "project management - tenure of land - development - community - south africa". lts.co.za.
  13. ^ "Alien spotted in Bryanston Extension 3 - Municipal | looklocal Randburg". Archived from the original on 25 July 2012. Retrieved 16 November 2011.
  14. ^ "Title deeds handed over in Alex | Alexandra". Archived from the original on 23 November 2011. Retrieved 16 November 2011.

External links[edit]