Gugulethu (often misspelt as “Guguletu”) is a township 15 km from Cape Town, Western Cape, South Africa. Its name is a contraction of “igugu lethu”, which is Xhosa for our pride. The township was established along with Nyanga in the 1960s.
The main route, Steve Biko Drive (formerly known as NY1), runs through the township. The town planners did not give names to any of the roads, all were simply numbered. NY1 stood for “Native Yard 1”, Gugulethu at the time not having been named as such and being considered simply as an extension of the adjoining township of Nyanga. There has been strong pressure for the NY terminology to be dropped and for the streets to be renamed. This resulted in the City of Cape Town renaming NY1 as Steve Biko Drive in September 2012. The renaming process continues and the City recently announced that streets will be named after, amongst others, Albert Luthuli, Amy Biehl, Ray Alexander, and the “Gugulethu Seven” (the latter being a group who were fatally ambushed by security police in Gugulethu in 1986). Currently, all the streets have new names, but the NY terminology is still predominant as residents are used to it. It is commonplace, however, to find members of the Gugulethu community still using the “NY” reference.
The name is a contraction of igugu lethu, which is Xhosa for our pride. Gugulethu, along with Nyanga, was established in the 1960s due to the overcrowding of Langa, which was the only black residential area for Cape Town at the time. During the Apartheid era black South Africans were not permitted to live in the city of Cape Town, and many people were removed from areas such as District Six to Gugulethu, Nyanga, and Langa. The predominant language in Gugulethu is isiXhosa. Gugulethu is passionately called or referred to as “Gugs” by the locals, which is a nickname stemming from the shortening of the name Gugulethu. It was later also referred to as “eNju”.
Black residents living in Windermere were forcibly moved to Gugulethu when it was declared a black township. Windermere was declared by Apartheid regime to be a colored area.
Gugulethu was one of the first townships in Cape Town to have a community information technology Center to provide training in multimedia and youth development.
The ‘Gugulethu Seven Memorial’ was built to commemorate the life of seven activists that were ambushed and killed by the South African security forces on March 3, 1986. The activists were members of uMkhonto weSizwe, the armed wing of the African National Congress (ANC). The seven murdered were Jabulani Godfery Miya, Zandisile Zenith Mjobo, Zola Alfred Swelani, Mandla Simon Mxinwa, Themba Mlifi, Zabonke, John Konile, and Christopher Piet. On Human Rights Day 2000, the memorial was unveiled.
Some notable places of interest include but are not limited to:
In March 1986, South Africa’s Apartheid security murdered seven young black men. The incident became known as The Gugulethu Seven. The seven men were: Zandisile Zenith Mjobo, Zola Alfred Swelani, Mandla Simon Mxinwa, Godfrey Jabulani Miya, Themba Mlifi, Zabonke John Konile and Christopher “Rasta” Piet. They were members of the military wing of the African National Congress known as Umkhonto we Sizwe.
In August 1993, Gugulethu was the site of the violent murder of a young white American woman, Amy Biehl, in the upheaval following the official end of apartheid and before the multi-racial election of 1994. In 1998, four men were convicted of Amy’s murder. They were pardoned by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Ms. Biehl’s family supported the release of the four men. They started the Amy Biehl Foundation Trust in the townships to work with youth. The foundation’s goal to empower young disadvantaged youth by using education and culture to deter crime and drugs. An Amy Biehl Memorial site was created in Gugulethu and tours into the township to see the memorial and visit some of the schools where programs were created by the Amy Biehl Foundation.