Life in South African Townships

By Ashlyn Singer

The beginning of townships in South Africa

  • Racial segregation was an issue in South Africa ever since white settlers permanently landed in Cape Town in 1652, but Apartheid wasn't formally instituted until 1948.
  • Townships originated in South Africa as a way of controlling the labor source. South Africa's economy required a large, migratory and inexpensive labor source, so eligible workers were placed in townships. These townships were managed by the British, using brutal police forces and municipal administrative traditions to rule over them.
  • The first modern, formal townships were located in Kimberley, where migrant workers came to work in the mines following the discovery of diamonds in 1867.
  • Land Act: Laws passed in 1913 requiring blacks, coloreds, and Indians to live in townships separate from the big cities where the whites lived.
  • Groups Areas Acts: passed in 1950, enhanced previous laws on racial segregation


The common races that were segregated and forced to live in townships were:

  • Blacks
  • Coloreds
  • Indians/ Asians

Within the townships, segregation was taken to an even further extent. Tribal groups such as Zulus, Xhosas, Sothos, and others were also separated from one another.

Life in the townships

  • Passbooks were required under the Pass Laws
  • Real estate property ownership by blacks was forbidden
  • 43% unemployment
  • An estimated 10 million are denied water and electricity because of nonpayment
  1. Those that don't have electricity are known to try to make illegal connections with houses that do have electricity. This causes hazardous locations for the people who live nearby.
  • Sewers are frequently blocked and overflow
  • Maintenance is nearly impossible because of the dense population of people that live in the townships.
  • Because of overpopulation, smaller townships have been set up along tributaries and other sources of water. Because they are not formally created, trash and sewage block the water source which also restricts other townships from receiving water.
  • Lack of maintenance is causing buildings to decay, which creates hazardous situations for those living in them.

Connection to Kaffir Boy

Throughout the novel, Mark explains the harsh conditions that he faced while growing up. He faced most of the challenges that are still present today in Alexandra such as building decay, sewage problems, lack of water and electricity and more. Although unpleasant, many of these events caused Mark to be the person he is today.

Works Cited

Interactive Planning Workshop for Johannesburg. Greater Johannesburg Metropolitan Council. Johannesburg, South Africa. 27–30 September 2000. Web. 8 October 2011. <>

International Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences. pp. 406.

A Happy Dot from the Townships of South Africa. N.d. 350 Africa, Alexandra, South Africa. 350 Africa. Web. 21 Feb. 2012.

Savitt, Maddy. Kids in Township. N.d. South Africa- ing, Alexandra, South AFrica. South Africa- ing . Web. 22 Feb. 2013.

Smith, David. Fire. N.d. Anger at ANC record boils over in South African townshipsits, South AFrica. The Guardian. Web. 21 Feb. 2013.

Gardner, Drew. Townships in South AFrica. N.d. News from the South African Townships,Thanks to the Flash Centre and Velmex, South Africa. The Photographic World of Drew Gardner. Web. 21 Feb. 2013.