South AfricaTownshipsWestern Cape

Khayelitsha – Western Cape, South Africa

Khayelitsha is a partially informal township in Western Cape, South Africa, located on the Cape Flats in the City of Cape Town. The name is isXhosa for “Our New Home”. It is reputed to be the largest  and fastest growing township in South Africa. 

Cape Town initially opposed implementing the Group Areas Act passed in 1950 and residential areas in the city remained unsegregated until the first Group Areas were declared in the city in 1957. When Cape Town did start implementing the Group Areas Act, it did so more severely than any other major city; by the mid-1980s it became one of the most segregated cities in South Africa.

Plans to build Khayelitsha were first announced by Dr Piet Koornhof in 1983, then Minister of Co-operation and Development. By 1985 the suburb Site C had 30,000 people. Khayelitsha was one of the apartheid regime’s final attempts to enforce the Group Areas Act and was seen as the solution to two problems: the rapidly growing number of migrants from the Eastern Cape, and overcrowding in other Cape Town townships.

“Mayor” Johnson Ngxobongwana

The discrimination and black population control by the apartheid government did not prevent blacks from settling in the outskirts of Cape Town. After the scrapping of pass laws in 1987 many blacks, mainly Xhosas, moved into areas around Cape Town in search of work. By this time many blacks were already illegally settled in townships like Nyanga and Crossroads. During 1983 and 1984 conditions in squatter camps like Crossroads and KTC worsened, exacerbated by official policing policy in which homes were destroyed and the emergence of the Witdoeke, led by “Mayor” Johnson Ngxobongwana. The Witdoeke were actively supported by the apartheid government in its fight against the ANC-aligned UDF who had actively opposed plans for people to be moved to the new township of Khayelitsha. As the black population grew, the apartheid regime sought to solve the “problem” by establishing new black neighbourhoods. Khayelitsha was established in 1985 and large numbers of people were forcefully relocated there, mostly peacefully, but occasionally accompanied with violence.

The Western Cape was a preference area for the local coloured population and a system called influx control was in place preventing Xhosas from travelling from the Transkei without the required permit. After the historic 1994 elections hundreds of thousands moved to urban areas in search of work, education, or both. Many of them erected shacks made of tin, wood and cardboard.

Today Khayelitsha has a population of 391,749 (as of 2011) and runs for a number of kilometres along the N2. The ethnic makeup of Khayelitsha is approximately 90.5% Black African, 8.5% Coloured and 0.5% White, with Xhosa being the predominant language of the residents. Khayelitsha has a very young population with fewer than 7% of its residents being over 50 years old and over 40% of its residents being under 19 years of age. In 2011 around 62% of residents in Khayelitsha were rural to urban migrants, most coming from the Eastern Cape. In the communities of Enkanini and Endlovini over 85% of the residents were born in the Eastern Cape.

About 75% of residents identify themselves as Christian while about 20% follow traditional beliefs; a small minority of residents identify themselves as Muslim.

Khayelitsha is one of the poorest areas of Cape Town with a median average income per family of R20,000 (US$1,872) a year compared to the City median of R40,000.00. Roughly over half of the 118,000 households live in informal dwellings.

  • Area: 43.51 square kilometres (16.80 sq mi)
  • Population: 391 749: 7,561.99 inhabitants per square kilometre (19,585.5/sq mi)
  • Households: 118,809: 1,976.31 per square kilometre (5,118.6/sq mi)


Since the ANC came to power in the country in 1994, the ruling party claims that living conditions in the township have improved markedly. There have been many developments such as new brick housing being built, as well as new schools, and the creation of a central business district in the Township. However, many residents strongly dispute the claim that the quality of life has improved. They claim that crime rates remain very high and that only a small portion of residents see improvements as a result of infrastructure and welfare interventions. The Khayelitsha Commission was established by the provincial government to investigate allegations of inefficient policing in Khayelitsha and a breakdown in the relationship between the police and the community.

Around 70% of residents still live in shacks and one in three people has to walk 200 meters or further to access water.  Around 53% of Khayelitsha’s total working-age population is employed. The five most common forms of employment are domestic work (19.4%), service work (15.2%), skilled manual labour (15.2%), unskilled manual labour (11%), and security services (10.4%). Some 89% of households in Khayelitsha are either moderately or severely food insecure.The 2001 census recorded that two in three residents lived in shacks. By 2011 the number of people living in formal housing had increased to almost half due to the construction of roughly 25,000 new houses being built between 2001 and 2011. In 2013, on New Year’s Day, the township experienced a fire that resulted in the deaths of more than three people, with 4000 residents being left homeless as their shacks were burned to the ground.


Khayelitsha has been split into about 22 areas, depending on how one divides them. Khayelitsha is made up of old formal areas and new informal/formal areas. The old formal areas were built originally by the apartheid government and are known as A-J sections (each section with more or less than 500 formal two roomed brick houses) Bongweni, Ikwezi Park, Khulani Park, Khanya Park, Tembani, Washington Square, Graceland, Ekuphumleni and Zolani Park. These areas are mostly made up of bank bond housing and are home to middle-class / upper working class populations. 

The newer areas have been built up around the older areas. They include Site B (which is further subdivided into the K-Z sections in continuation of the original A-J sections respectively and TR, QQ, RR and BM informal settlements), Site C, Green Point, Litha Park, Mandela Park, Makaza, Makaya and Harare. With the exception of Litha Park, these areas contain a high number of informal settlements, RDP houses, and informal backyard dwellers.

Notable informal settlements in Khayelitsha include QQ Section, TR Section, RR Section and Enkanini which have gained prominence due to their high-profile conflicts with government including protest actions such as road blockades.

Khayelitsha has a small but growing middle class with a total of 1,400 households earning more than R25,000 a month in 2011. This is a large increase, as in 2001 there were almost no households earning over R25,000 a month.


The growing number of entrepreneurs in the township are ably supported by organisations such as the Patrice Motsepe Foundation and Caban Investments (through their Qinisanani initiative) and HubSpace.

As Cape Town’s largest township, Khayelitsha attracts funding from international aid agencies. A number of partnerships with international companies, governments and NGOs have been set up:

  • A successful initiative at Ikhwezi Lesizwe Primary School has brought company support for technology. The UK based Ramesys have donated software and kit to allow for good web communications. Smart Technology from Canada have donated an interactive whiteboard.
  • Another such group based in Zion, Illinois, US, is Partners Across the Ocean, which has brought Khayelitsha high school learners to the US and built a computer lab in Khayelitsha.
  • The South Africa Community Fund has been active in the neighbourhood of Harare, Khayelitsha, bringing groups of students from Arizona State University and other volunteers for home stays and community immersions.
  • VPUU began as a partnership between the City of Cape Town, the German Development Bank (KfW) and the community of Khayelitsha in September 2005. The partnership has since been extended to include the Western Cape Government, National Treasury, international agencies, NGOs, CBOs and other communities. Co-funded by the Federal German Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development, the City of Cape Town, National Treasury, other public and third party funding and implemented by AHT Group AG and Sustainable Urban Neighbourhood (SUN) Development Pty Ltd. In April 2013, VPUU NPC was established to implement VPUU in the Western Cape.VPUU (Violence Prevention through Urban Upgrading) is responsible for the building of community centres and gardens, and the sponsorship of soccer clubs.
  • Khayelitsha was also the focus of the Community Exchange System when it launched in Cape Town.
  • Canadian organisation Golden Future South Africa volunteers in secondary schools in Site B. Within the schools, this organisation facilitates conversation on the topics of health, life orientation and education. Outside the schools, a business group aids local businesses in legitimising their establishments.
  • Grassroot Soccer is a South African non-profit organisation that integrates the cross-cultural appeal of soccer with evidence based HIV prevention and life skills programmes that provide youth in Khayelitsha, as well as other parts of Africa, with the knowledge, skills and support to live HIV free. This organisation operates in Khayelitsha from the Football For Hope Centre, a community centre in Khayelitsha.
  • AMANDLA EduFootball, a South Africa-based non-profit organisation, established its inaugural Safe-Hub, the Chris Campbell Memorial Field, in partnership with the CTC Ten Foundation in Khayelitsha. The Safe-Hub is a youth friendly space where young people can find physical and emotional safety through support from strong role models and positive young community leaders. The organisation’s evidence-based youth violence prevention model identifies hot-spots of chronic youth driven violence and establishes ‘Safe-Hub’ infrastructures at the centre of these crisis points. In 2012, this project won the international Beyond Sport Award for the worldwide best project in the category ‘Sport for Conflict Resolution’.
  • Since 2003 the Niall Mellon Township Trust has managed £160m of fundraising which has been used to build 25,000 homes, affecting 125,000 people. In November 2016, under the Mellon Educate Results Programme, 270 volunteers built 13 new classrooms, 2 toilet blocks, 1 kitchen and renovated 7 other buildings in Khayelitsha. The aim of the programme is to help raise and sustain school grades from below 20% to above 75%.

Khayelitsha has a good transport infrastructure. Golden Arrow Bus Services, MyCiti bus IRT system, Metrorail trains, and many taxis all have routes to and from the township. Trains are the cheapest and most used form of transport. Khayelitsha has six rail stations: Mandalay, Nolungile, Nonkqubela, Khayelitsha, Kuyasa and Chris Hani. There are also a number of bus stations and taxi ranks, although most taxis still pick up passengers on the main roads. Khayelitsha’s busiest roads are Mew Way, Spine Road, Lansdowne Road, Walter Sisulu Road, Bonga Drive and Baden Powell Drive.




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