A short insight in township life

Many friends and also people I met here ask me what it is like to life in a township. It is difficult to answer this question because I do not really life here. I only stay in a township for four month and then, I will go back home. The people grown up and living in a township will probably have other stories to tell and a different point of view as “the white visitor” I am. I wanted to point this out.

Anyway, I can only write about the townships around Cape Town. The townships are located in the Cape Flats, the vast area between Table Mountain and the False Bay. By far the biggest part of Cape Town’s population life in these Cape Flats and not on this ‘famous view from the sea” site. The development of these settlements is related to the history of Apartheid and deserves a post on its own.

The Cape Flats

Original picture from: Wikipedia – Cape Flats

When it comes to the word “township, I think that it is hardly appropriate. Every township is a town on its own. 3 million people are believed to live in Khayelitsha, the biggest township in the Cape Flats. And 400.000 in Gugulethu, the township I stay in which makes it still a bigger town than Bonn and nearly as huge as Grenoble with its ‘agglomeration’. Like every other town the townships have different areas, wealthier and poorer ones, safer and dangerous ones. One thing they have in common is that the townships are all more or less shaken by poverty and violence although there are also signs of development, improvement and hope.

township.jpg

Original picture from: Wikipedia – Cape Flats

The unemployment rate in most of the townships is an average of 70%. It is not unusual that a whole family lives from the pension grant of one elderly family member. One shack build of wood or corrugated iron can be the home of 6 or 7 people. The townships around Cape Town have probably the highest HIV/AIDS prevalence among adults in the Western Cape. Violence and crime result out of a dangerous mixture of unemployment, frustration, hopelessness, and hundred years of discrimination and violent oppression.

However, many things have improved since 1994. Millions of houses and schools have been build nationwide. The government tries to provide free or low interest loans and land to those who want to build. Once the houses are build they can look like nice English cottage houses, at least this is what I would compare them to. Some areas have strong neighbourhoods. People help each other out, giving food and clothes to the feeblest members of the community like orphans, mentally disabled when they can afford it. Local business has been developed since the end of the Apartheid and economical initiatives started form the township population created jobs within the area.

Nevertheless, the positive development of the last years cannot hide that challenges are still enormous and that every initiative, every improvement, and every new building can appear as a drop in the bucket. New people arrive every day in the townships coming from the even poorer rural areas or the Northern neighbour countries. The most important things beside shelter and food to provide are education for the children and work for the adults. This would be empowering in its very first sense.

Gugulethu - overview

So what does it look and feel like to live in a township? I would say that it is impressive because of the people. There strength is amazing; they do not give up, and the will to improve, to advance is stirring. But what I found the most remarkable is the happiness and the joy of living despite the harshness. When you see the children playing, the young people enjoying a party and the elder ones sitting together chatting and laughing, then you can get a feeling for “the real township life”.

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