Voices from the townships

This page is devoted to voices from Cape Town's hundreds of townships and informal settlements.


Through my past work with residents of some of the most disadvantaged communities in West Cornwall (see Cornwall Neighbourhoods for Change) I think I have some notion of what the daily challenges and accumulating burden of poverty and multiple deprivation look and feel like. But in South Africa where that challenge and burden is multiplied ten- to a hundred-fold I only have the barest inkling of what life in a township feels like.


So I have tried to find resources that let people in townships talk directly about their lives and struggles. Most of these are videos - either on YouTube or Vimeo - that I have sorted through and embedded on this and the following pages.


All I would say in watching them is: Remember that the sun does not shine all the time in the Western Cape.  In fact it goes down each night.  And night-time is the worst time to be poor and vulnerable. Remember also that Cape winter's can be long, cold and wet.  Places built on marginal land flood and are exposed to the howling south-easterlies and the destructive bellows they provide to the smallest township fire.

The fantastic Jikeleza dance project at Imizamo Yethu township at Hout Bay outside Cape Town

The Jikeleza (Xhosa: “turn around” or “pirouette”) dance project established in 2002, currently teaches dance (African, contemporary, Spanish and classical ballet) to children and young people from the informal settlement of Imizamo Yethu and the Hangberg Harbour community in Hout Bay, in Nyanga Township and the Learn-To-Live Programme for street children in Greenpoint.


The young man, Phumlisa Nana Ndindwa, who features in the film moved from Gugulethu on the Cape Flats to live in Hout Bay with his new mum. According to data collected by the South African Institute of Race Relations (SAIRR) over 700 people were murdered in Gugulethu between 2005 and 2010. "This amounts to one murder every two-and-a-half days for five consecutive years" (see Wikipedia: Gugulethu.)

An introduction to township life and the work of Ikamva Labuntu

Waste recycling as a way of supplementing incomes in Cape Flat townships

This is a really nice video that documents an innovative community scheme that combines a kind of neighbourhood clean-up with the generation of small amounts of cash income to supplement meagre grant transfers to residents. I particularly liked the woman who uses her collected waste as a form of non-cash saving that she can draw on in times of extremer hardship.


R400 = £31.19/€39.74.



Video of Thembi Ngubane's (from Khayelitsha) AIDS campaigning. She died aged 24 in 2009.

This is a very moving video about Thembi Ngubane's HIV/AIDS campaigning in South Africa and further afield. Thembi died on June 4, 2009, aged 24.


Tribute to Thembi in South Africa's Sunday Times
"Thembi Ngubane lived in a shack in Khayelitsha in poverty. But she
refused to be "typical". She committed "acts of insubordination".
Ngubane rebelled in her own way against social attitudes towards
black women, black youth, poor people, shackdwellers, as well as
definitions of what constitutes heroism. Ngubane gave voice to people
living with HIV/AIDS at many forums and continues to do so through
the story and media she produced and leaves behind. It is not
sentimental to say that her honesty, wisdom, courage and inspiration
is a legacy to be treasured in the same way of the legacies of heroes
who fought the injustices of the Apartheid system. Ngubane is in many
ways, one of South Africa's own post-1976 heroines.' At The AIDS Diary Project


See also this moving animation of Thembi Ngubane's Diary.


Mitchell's Plain youth media project with shocking footage of the township

Love and Care Day Centre at Masiphumelele as told by Aurelia Kaitesi, a Ugandan woman who survived the Rwandan genocide, to find herself victim of xenophobic attacks

For more information on Aurelia Kaitesi see here


'Aurelia is no stranger to xenophobia and ethnic violence. At the age of four, she and her family fled from Uganda, in fear of their lives. Years later in 1993, she was living in Rwanda – married with four children.

Her world came crashing down when, a few months before the Rwandan Genocide of ’94, she witnessed the murder of her husband (who was a diplomat) and her five year old daughter. She and her remaining children were given 24 hours to leave their home, and Rwanda.

And so began a long journey, moving from one refugee camp to another throughout sub-Saharan Africa, losing her remaining daughter to illness along the way. After years of searching for a place to settle down in, Aurelia and her two boys finally moved to a place called Masiphumelele.'

Barefoot Workshop video of Helping Hands after-school drama group in Khayelitsha

House building project in Mfuleni and Bardale townships with Desmond Tutu

See aerial view of Mfuleni on Cape Townships page.

South African Shack/Slum Dwellers International Alliance

For the SDI South African Alliance see here.

Nice scenes of kids and parents playing in Kuyasa Township

Mshini Wam informal settlement in Joe Slovo, Milnerton, Cape Town

Barefoot Workshop video on surfing-based HIV Intervention in Cape Town

Médecins Sans Frontières video on TB treatment in Khayelitsha

A longer BBC One Square Mile video about Khayelitsha which starts in the township at night

Paul Martin reports in a wierd supercilious and over-familiar way in this video with his faux shock at what he finds out. But interesting in a patronising, insulting, not-that-well-informed, putting-words-in-your-mouth kind of way. Can't even spell Khayelitsha or  Xhosa ('Xhoza') right on the title or in the video. But still worth watching. As the guy in astonishment says when asked if he likes living in Khayelitsha's informal settlements,


'No electricity? No nothing?  But I just live here because I have to survive.'

Below a note about Swenking and a video (see also The Fear III). A previous township phenomena to the Izikhothane in the mid 2000s was 'swenking' (from English 'swank') and 'swenk-offs' where young and not-so-young men dressed up and competed to out-peacock each other (see Wikipedia: Swenkas).


In a country riven by AIDS, the Swenkas' insistence on cleanliness - washing is a recurring motif in the film - and the promotion of "chaste conduct" are difficult to fault. (See New York Times on the film, The Swenkas').


For some interesting thoughts on swenking and the Izikhothane see Julia Makhubela's Ms Jay blog.