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South Africa: Cape Town – Visiting the Townships

A legacy of apartheid, the townships of Cape Town were built to house migrant laborers. Though much poverty still exists in the townships, they are also strongholds of local community ties. So much so, that even some who can afford to move out choose not to.

The History of Apartheid

In 1948, decades of strengthening nationalism by the minority white Afrikaner population culminated in the election of the National Party (NP) on a platform of establishing apartheid (literally, the state of being apart).

Every individual was classified by race. The Group Areas Act enforced the physical separation of residential areas. The South African townships and the Cape Flats were consolidated to form areas to which the non-white residents of the city and its suburbs were forcibly relocated.

“Pass Laws” required blacks to carry identity documents at all times and prohibited them from remaining outside the townships after appointed curfews.

After decades of darkness, conflict, and international condemnation, the election of FW de Klerk in 1989 was the beginning of the end of apartheid. De Klerk repealed discriminatory laws and set political prisoners, including Nelson Mandela, free.

A new constitution was written, a transitional multi-racial government was formed and an election date was set. In 1994, the new South African flag was raised and the country’s first democratic elections brought the inauguration of Nelson Mandela as the newly-reconciled South Africa’s first president.

Cape Town’s three biggest townships are Langa, Guguletu, and Khayelitsha. Tours are available to these townships.

Our plan was not to visit one of these large sprawling townships, but instead, visit the smaller community at Imizamo Yethu.

We had spent the morning visiting Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens. To get there we had taken one of the CitySightSeeing tour buses on the blue route. We learned that if we got off the bus at one of the stops before Hout Bay we could get a tour of Imizamo Yehtu from a local guide. 

Imizamo Yethu (Xhosa, meaning “Our Efforts” and commonly known as Mandela Park or IY[2]) is an 18-hectare settlement housing approximately 33 600 people, although that exact number is hard to verify.

We met a young lady at the bus stop who offered to show us around the settlement. These tours are provided to raise funds for the community. For the next 30 minutes, we were shown around the streets of Imizamo Yethu, including the shops, the local school, and the community centre. Our guide told us stories about life here. Some efforts have been made to improve conditions, specifically by the Niall Mellon Township Trust with their People’s Housing Process in 2002. This non-profit organisation based in Ireland sent volunteers to build several hundred basic homes for individuals in Imizamo Yethu. What is interesting is that residents of these houses have built non-authorised extensions which they rent out for money. We were also told about the 2017 fire, which between March 11 and 12, 2017, devastated a large section of the community, killing three people, destroying 3,500 homes and displacing 15,000 people.

On the peripheries of the Imizamo Yethu are areas referred to as the ‘buffer zone’, these are homes largely made out of corrugated iron where the unregistered people live. Many of the people here are immigrants from other parts of Africa and Asia who have made their way to South Africa for a better life. A lot of illegal immigrants work for a lot lower salaries than the South African people will, which is often not enough to live on. The black economy abuses these immigrants and there is tension with the local South Africans who believe, probably quite rightly jobs are being taken from them. Then again, we all have to live, and illegal immigrants do not get State benefits, including healthcare.

Planning your visit to Imizamo Yethu

CitySightseeing’s Hop-On, Hop-Off Bus

A quick and easy way to reach Imizamo Yethu is on the City Sightseeing bus. This “hop-on, hop-off” service runs every 20 minutes and stops at other major tourist attractions in Cape Town. You will need to be on the Blue Route and exit the bus before you reach Hout Bay. As the driver where to get off.

Meter Taxi’s

Meter taxis are available for hire across the city centre. You can either flag down a taxi or call one of the numerous taxi companies. They charge per kilometre, and this can vary from R10 to R20 per kilometre.

Tip: you can negotiate a price with some drivers, and it is a good idea to ask for an estimate before you get in.

Uber or Bolt

Uber and Bolt operate in Cape Town, and anyone who has installed the iOS or Android app can use the private-driver service to get to the Cableway. uberBlack, uberX (slightly cheaper) as well as Bolt XL and Bolt Go (slightly cheaper) options are available.

Best time to visit Cape Town

The best times to visit Cape Town are from March to May and from September to November. These shoulder seasons boast enviable weather, fewer crowds, and lower prices. When planning your trip, it’s important to note that the seasons here are reversed: South Africa’s summer corresponds with America’s winter, and vice versa. That said, Cape Town’s summer is the most popular (and most expensive) time to visit. Hotels and attractions are usually overflowing with travellers. Meanwhile, the Mother City clears out between June and August when chilly weather and frequent rainfall put a damper on tourist activities.

Other places to visit while in Cape Town


Table Mountain Cape Town

Table Mountain is a flat-topped mountain forming a prominent landmark overlooking the city of Cape Town in South Africa. It is a significant tourist attraction, with many visitors using the cableway or hiking to the top.


Robben Island was used at various times between the 17th and 20th centuries as a prison, a hospital for socially unacceptable groups and a military base. Its buildings, particularly those of the late 20th century such as the maximum security prison for political prisoners, witness the triumph of democracy and freedom over oppression and racism.


The Bo-Kaap is an area of Cape Town, South Africa formerly known as the Malay Quarter. It is a former racially segregated area, situated on the slopes of Signal Hill above the city centre and is a historical centre of Cape Malay culture in Cape Town.


The V&A Waterfront is an iconic 123-hectare neighbourhood which welcomes millions of people from all over the continent and world. We celebrate heritage & diversity, champion art & design, support entrepreneurship & innovation & drive positive social, economic & environmental,

Where to stay Cape Town


Atlanticview Cape Town is a privately owned intimate 5-Star Boutique Hotel. It’s perfectly located close to all the main tourist attractions, nestled between the Atlantic Ocean and Table Mountain in Fashionable Camps Bay, “The South African Corniche”, packed with world-class restaurants, bars and beaches. The hotel is accessible to the Beaches (2 min), Table Mountain (5 min) Down Town or V+A Waterfront shopping Centre (10 min) and Cape Town International Airport (20 min). The Cape of Good Hope, Penguin Colony and Cape Winelands are less than an hour away.

The hotel has commanding 180-degree magnificent views sweeping from the top of Table Mountain and The Twelve Apostles range that disappears into the sea. It is truly the perfect place to holiday, honeymoon or simply take a break for a romantic weekend. This beautiful property is situated alongside a greenbelt/nature reserve in very quiet surroundings. It is far enough from the noisy crowds of the promenade but close enough to enjoy the beaches, bars and restaurants with spectacular views in all directions.


Anchor Bay Guest House is nestled on the slopes of Table Mountain within walking distance from the famous restaurants and nightlife of Sea Point. Less than 3.5 km away is the CBD of Cape Town, Cape Town Stadium, and of course, the extraordinary V&A Waterfront – a world-famous working harbour with many speciality restaurants, shops, boutiques, boat cruises, ferries to Robben Island, an aquarium and much more. 


The Mother City’s most original, convenient and fun place to stay! The luxurious Grand Daddy Boutique Hotel on Long Street bustles with energy.

As well as standard rooms the Grand Daddy has an airstream trailer park on its rooftop. The seven original Airstream trailers each have their own decor theme and collectively reflect a typical South African road trip. Authentic Airstream trailers are incredible works of craftsmanship and their classic shape is unforgettably iconic.


Accurately described as “The Soul of Long Street” (Lonely Planet, 2011), this famous hostel is the epicentre of action on Cape Town’s most vibrant street. There are literally hundreds of eating, drinking and entertainment options right on the doorstep.

Sleeping up to 80 guests, this hostel features a lush internal courtyard that’s perfect for braais, ping-pong, chilling, and meeting fellow travellers. The iconic brick building also boasts two large, sun-drenched balconies, with views of Long Street and Signal Hill. There are dormitory-style accommodations, as well as single, twin, and double private rooms, all with shared bathrooms. There is a TV room with satellite TV, a pool table, a well-stocked communal kitchen, and fibre-speed WIFI.

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