Life in South African Townships

By: Lisha Jacob


  • Township in South Africa is term that refers to the underdeveloped urban living areas that from the late 19th century until the end of Apartheid housed black South Africans, Indians, Coloreds, and other non-white races.
  • Townships were built aroung urban cities where only whites lived.
  • Poor Standard of Living
  • Uneducated population
  • Witness to violent crimes and actions

Apartheid Laws

Group Areas Act 1950
    • Restricted Blacks from entering or living in areas reserved for whites.
    • Forced Blacks who wanted to work in the cities to live in townships

Infrastructure of Alexandra

  • Established in 1912
  • One of the largest townships during Apartheid
  • Designed for a population of about 70,000, however during the years of Apartheid figures have ranged from 180,00 to 750,000
  • Originally built to have sizable houses with gardens and 3-6 additional rooms built separately in the gardens
  • As people kept moving into the township from tribal reserves the owners of the houses rented out the additional rooms which were known as backyard shacks.
  • These shacks were small, crowded with few furnishings, and unstable.

Large Population

  • Shortages on clean water, food, and jobs
    • unsanitary living conditions
    • overflowing sewages
    • malnutritioned children
    • adults with no way to support family members
  • Violence
    • fueled by the need to survive
    • gangs and tsotsis
    • children grow up to experiencing violence and turning to it when no other option for them to survive
    • murder, rape, and robbery was common


  • This wasn’t an option for most children because their families could not afford to keep them in school.
  • Most parents in townships thought education was a waste of time and money due to their tribal upbringing and lack of money.
  • Very few kids went to school and even fewer actually completed it.

Daily Life

  • Adults who had jobs went to work in the cities usually 5-7 days a week.
  • Those didn’t resorted to committing crimes, begging, and scavenging for food.
  • Children whose families could afford to send them to school everyday except the weekends.
  • Children who didn’t go to school roamed the streets and looked for ways to entertain themselves or find food to eat.
  • Most families didn’t have food to eat every day and slept on the ground with whatever covers they could find.
  • The population lived in fear of the gangsters and the Peri-Urban Police

Connection to Kaffir Boy

  • Mark Mathabane grew up in a township.
  • He was one of the few children in his neighborhood that went to school.
  • His family went through the same experiences many others did during the Apartheid went through.

Works Cited

"Alexandra Township, Johannesburg, South Africa." Alexandra Township, Johannesburg, South Africa. The World Bank Group, n.d. Web. 21 Feb. 2013. <>.

"Apartheid." Postcolonial Studies Emory. Studio Press, n.d. Web. 21 Feb. 2013. <>.

Dempster, Carolyn. "Guns, Gangs and Culture of Violence." BBC News. BBC, 04 Oct. 2002. Web. 21 Feb. 2013. <>.

"Township (South Africa)." Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 20 Feb. 2013. Web. 21 Feb. 2013. <>.

"US NGO Teams with South African Schools to Enhance Education in Townships." VOA. Voice of America, 03 Feb. 2011. Web. 21 Feb. 2013. <>.