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What is a Township? An individual’s perspective

What exactly is a township, and how does it differ from other residential areas? Let’s take a look at some interesting notes about townships in South Africa…

What is a Township?

Historically, ‘township’ in South Africa referred to an urban residential area created for black migrant labour, usually beyond the town or city limits. Reference is sometimes made to ‘black township’, ‘coloured township’ and ‘Indian township’, meaning that these settlements were created for these population groups. By contrast, the white population resided in suburbs. Informal synonyms for the township are ‘location’, ‘lokasie’, ’ilogishi’. Generally, every town/city has one or several townships associated with it.

How is a Township different from other residential areas?

The main difference between a township and other residential areas is the proportion of low-income households that live in each. Only about 8% of households in ‘middle-income areas’ are low-income, compared to 64% of households in ‘working-class areas’. Low-income households are unable to access the rights that come with living in other residential areas. These rights include owning land, accessing public services such as reliable water and electricity, and gaining access to government services such as healthcare.

But that’s not all the township is! We’re going to write more articles to show another side to these communities that is underrepresented online.

Moving on swiftly…..

Interesting Facts about Townships in South Africa

  • Townships were created as a form of social housing in the 1930s.
  • The majority of South Africans continue to live in townships.
  • During the Apartheid era, many townships became flashpoints for protests and violence.
  • Township residents have been at the forefront of economic growth and empowerment in South Africa.
  • There are a known few township entrepreneurs who are now becoming investors and funders.
  • Township residents have an important role in shaping the future of South Africa.

Some historical events that contributed to the Development of Townships in SA

  • The ‘Great Trek’: The Great Trek took place in the 1830s. The Voortrekkers (Boers) left the British-controlled areas in the east and moved west. This is where the larger townships later emerged.
  • The ‘Mfecane’: The Mfecane took place between 1816 and 1820. It was a period of warfare between various tribes in Southern Africa that resulted in the scattering of many tribes. As a result of this, tribes moved to areas such as the Eastern Cape and formed larger groups.
  • The ‘Griqua’: The Griqua formed an important group in the early development of the townships. In the mid-19th century, they moved from areas such as the Northern Cape and settled in the Eastern Cape.
  • The ‘British Conquest’: The British Conquest took place in the late 1800s. During this time, the British took control of the area now known as South Africa. This led to the development of townships.
  • The ‘Great Depression’: The Great Depression took place from 1929 to 1939. This was a period of economic recession that affected many parts of the world. During this time, the living conditions of black Africans in the townships worsened.
  • The ‘End of Apartheid’: The end of Apartheid in 1994 marked a key turning point in the development of townships. This was the time when black Africans were granted equal rights to those enjoyed by white South Africans.

3 entrepreneurs who come from Townships that you might want to know about 😉

  • Portia Mngomezulu, the founder Portia M who was awarded Pick n Pay’s 2018 Small Supplier of the Year award for her business’ exceptional growth performance and job creation.
  • Theo Baloyi, the founder and owner of Bathu Shoes which has grown to become one of South Africa’s if not Africa’s most recognised brands, with an array of accolades, an online store and more than 16 retail stores and over 300 employees.
  • Sihle Magubane, the owner of Sihle’s Brew – the first South African black-owned coffee brand. The business has propelled into success after launching 7 products on Pick n Pay shelves last year. Sihle’s Brew now employs 23 people, and has been able to hire more people since his products went on shelf at Pick n Pay.

2 Famous Examples of Townships in South Africa

  • Soweto: Soweto is a large township in the Gauteng province. It was established in the 1930s, when black Africans were forcibly moved from the city and into the township. Soweto became a flashpoint in 1976, when students protested against the use of Afrikaans as a language of instruction in schools.
  • Khayelitsha: Khayelitsha is the largest township in South Africa. It has been the subject of extensive research for the past two decades. Khayelitsha has been studied by social scientists, health workers, academics, and artists.

Wrapping up

“Di a bowa!” in townships! “Ziyabuya!”
It’s going down!
Townships and villages are an important part of South African history. These are communities where a higher percentage of the South African population live. They are often low-income housing, underdeveloped, with poor infrastructure and low-quality housing. Although townships are often associated with poverty, many people continue to live in them because they are the heartbeat of South Africa’s culture and identity. Some peopole with resources to live elsewhere still choose to stay in the communities they come from. Equally, some people cannot leave them due to undesirable economic conditions. Townships are important to understanding the history of South Africa. They have played an important role in the development of South Africa and this will continue to happen for the foreseeable future!

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