How Spatial Apartheid Still Lingers in Cape Town's Homes

Aerial of township and suburbs, Cape Town
Aerial of township and suburbs, Cape Town | © fivepointsix / Shutterstock

Freelance Writer - instagram.com/andrewthompsonsa

South Africa is one of the most unequal countries on Earth. Many of the country’s present-day issues stretch back to apartheid, particularly when it comes to spatial plans that put black South Africans on outlying, often inhospitable land.

Poverty is still entrenched along racial lines

Cape Town remains deeply divided, even though South Africa is more than two decades into democracy. According to the University of Cape Town’s National Income Dynamics Study, one third of South Africans are trapped in severe poverty. In recent years, an estimated three million people have become impoverished.

Imizamu Yethu Township, Hout Bay, Cape Town

Although poverty in rural areas remains the highest in the country, where 80% of the population live below the poverty line, the problem has not escaped urban centres like Cape Town. The most visible representation of this inequality is in the spatial planning that lingers in suburbs and informal settlements across the city.

Under apartheid rule, Cape Town was specifically designed to keep racial groups segregated. Black people were forced out of the city and nearby suburbs like District Six, and forced to live on land in the Cape Flats region, a sandy, windswept stretch several kilometres from the CBD.

On the surface, Cape Town today may appear to be harmonious and progressive, but many of these spatial planning decisions still impact the city’s residents. Given how apartheid constructed wealth and class based on race, many of these divisions are still rife.

Imizamu Yethu Township, Hout Bay, Cape Town

Whilst residential suburbs have not been officially racially segregated for more than two decades, those who were historically wealthy – the vast majority being white – continue to gain wealth and stretch the divide. Because of this, many historically white suburbs in Cape Town remain as such today, with working-class black families unable to afford the high cost of living in these neighbourhoods.

Next door to many white suburbs are primarily black townships. You will encounter an area with running water, electricity, street lights and paved roads, while located behind a large wall or a vegetative divider will often be an informal settlement with very little infrastructure. Informal settlements are often modest tin shacks, and are built on barren land.

An uncomfortable mirror on the city’s reality

Many people under apartheid had to travel long distances from their hometowns in order to find work. Thousands settled in what were labelled “townships”– essentially large informal housing areas – on the outer limits of big urban centres like Cape Town. Although apartheid-era pass laws, which banned black and coloured people from living in white suburbs, are obviously no longer in existence, many people still follow this trend in search of work. These days, however, there are more informal settlements, many of which are developing closer to the urban centres, such as that of Imizamo Yethu, which borders the leafy, predominantly white suburb of Hout Bay.

Aerial of township and suburbs, Cape Town

People living in the informal settlements that neighbour wealthy suburbs often work for the city’s wealthiest – usually in the form of housework or garden care. Others live in these settlements because of proximity to other work, or because they simply have no other viable housing options.

Although official segregation between races ended with apartheid, it’s clear that in a city like Cape Town, there is a growing divide between the city’s richest and its most impoverished. Nowhere is this more jarring than in the city’s homes, which still bear all the remnants of apartheid-era spatial planning.

Imizamu Yethu Township, Hout Bay, Cape Town
landscape with balloons floating in the air

KEEN TO EXPLORE THE WORLD?

Connect with like-minded people on our premium trips curated by local insiders and with care for the world

Since you are here, we would like to share our vision for the future of travel - and the direction Culture Trip is moving in.

Culture Trip launched in 2011 with a simple yet passionate mission: to inspire people to go beyond their boundaries and experience what makes a place, its people and its culture special and meaningful — and this is still in our DNA today. We are proud that, for more than a decade, millions like you have trusted our award-winning recommendations by people who deeply understand what makes certain places and communities so special.

Increasingly we believe the world needs more meaningful, real-life connections between curious travellers keen to explore the world in a more responsible way. That is why we have intensively curated a collection of premium small-group trips as an invitation to meet and connect with new, like-minded people for once-in-a-lifetime experiences in three categories: Culture Trips, Rail Trips and Private Trips. Our Trips are suitable for both solo travelers, couples and friends who want to explore the world together.

Culture Trips are deeply immersive 5 to 16 days itineraries, that combine authentic local experiences, exciting activities and 4-5* accommodation to look forward to at the end of each day. Our Rail Trips are our most planet-friendly itineraries that invite you to take the scenic route, relax whilst getting under the skin of a destination. Our Private Trips are fully tailored itineraries, curated by our Travel Experts specifically for you, your friends or your family.

We know that many of you worry about the environmental impact of travel and are looking for ways of expanding horizons in ways that do minimal harm - and may even bring benefits. We are committed to go as far as possible in curating our trips with care for the planet. That is why all of our trips are flightless in destination, fully carbon offset - and we have ambitious plans to be net zero in the very near future.

Winter Sale Offers on Our Trips

Incredible Savings

X
Edit article