A Trip to Town from CPT International: the Townships (1/5)


Visiting Cape Town soon? Here’s a sneak preview of your first glimpses of the city – what you’ll see en route from the airport to town (click on the CPT to Town tag for all the posts).

You’ve just landed at the destination of a lifetime – South Africa! – with its cosmopolitan cities and glorious abundance of African wildlife, not to mention beaches and surfing galore. If you’re lucky, your pilot had to wait a bit before being allowed to land, and the holding pattern took you on a high-altitude tour ’round the beautiful Cape.

Now you’ve got your luggage, and are ready to explore! First stop: the Cape Town city center and your accommodation’s check-in desk. Your transport pulls out of the airport and on to the main highway, and your first sight of our world-reknowned metropolis is – a sea of shacks, stretching for miles in both directions, heralding what you imagine must be abject poverty. It is a sobering sight.
Where are you? You’re at the junction of Borchard’s Quarry Road and the N2 highway.

What are you seeing? The “black” or “African” townships of the city – as opposed to the “brown” or “Coloured” ones. Specifically: Nyanga, KTC and Guguletu. The city’s largest township, Khayelitsha, begins just up the N2, in the opposite direction that you’re travelling.

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What should you know? Townships are complex places – you’re essentially looking at their fringes as you whiz past, which are the poorest areas. The townships were created during apartheid as “urban reservations” for “non-whites,” far away from prime land. Over the past ten years, Cape Town’s townships have experienced a wave of immigration from the Eastern Cape, and the new Capetonians have been forced to build their own shelters, creating “squatter camps” in many previously-unused plots and patches.
As you drive further toward Cape Town, the shacks will disappear, replaced with brick houses and tenements. These are the “Coloured” townships of Valhalla (on the right) and Heideveld and Silvertown (on the left). Coloured townships appear neater than “black townships” – they received a greater portion of the “non-white” town planning budget during apartheid, such as it was, and don’t come under the same pressure from Eastern Cape migrants – but are prey to similar patterns of poverty and its attendant problems. After Valhalla, you pass another “black” township, Langa/Joe Slovo.
Why so many quotation marks? Racial terminology has an acutely contested history in South Africa, and many people who might be called “black” or “Coloured” would reject or refine those descriptions. “Non-white,” meanwhile, is particularly objectionable, because of its highly racist negative connotations.

How can you visit? Many tour operators will take you into Cape Town’s townships – for a quick visit, a meal, or a full-day cultural tour – and you can even stay the night at one of several B&Bs. For more information, see SA Logue’s Township & Development Tourism section.

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