Tuesday 10 May 2011

Township Life: Imizamo Yethu

From the vineyards to the townships ... this is a land of contrasts.
Hout Bay, in a valley on the Atlantic side of the Cape peninsula, is home to a mix of people from the very rich to the very poor. You reach it either via a road that winds down the mountainside from Constantia's highest vineyards, or via an equally winding but vertiginous coastal road with spectacular ocean views (Chapman's Peak Drive) ...

Down in the valley, extending from the town's pretty main road up the mountainside, is the sprawling settlement called Imizamo Yethu (in Xhosa 'our collective struggle/efforts'), also known as Mandela Park.

Somewhere between informal settlement and fully-fledged suburb, it has shacks made of corrugated iron sheets and random found-and-resurrected house parts, alongside more solid brick houses built mainly through funding from a charitable housing foundation.

Some look so precarious that you wonder how they can possibly survive the Cape winter rains and storms ...

This is home to 20 - 30 thousand families. Most have come to Cape Town in search of work - either from the Eastern Cape (many are from rural Transkei, birthplace of Nelson Mandela) or as refugees from other African countries - Zimbabwe, Congo, Zaire...

Over the last two decades that have seen this settlement grow exponentially, local government has provided roads, some (extremely) basic water and sewerage facilities, schools and a health clinic.

There is pay-as-you-go electricity (monitored via the numbers you see painted on shacks). In the photo below right you can see a satellite TV dish! Below left, a makeshift open drain pipe carries water from an inside sink to the ground outside.

What strikes you overwhelmingly about this place is its life. It practically heaves with activity. There's music everywhere, coming out of bars, shops and homes. Cars (literally the only thing that made me afraid here) roar up and down the steep roads, windows open and music blaring, causing people and dogs to scatter. Conversations were happening everywhere in the streets ...

This grandpa was supervising the kids' play in a fenced-in yard ...

while others played on the sidewalks ...

Best friends? ...

Small businesses thrive here. Spazas (convenience shops) like the one below mean that many essential items can be bought close to home ...

Small-time entrepreneurs abound, as people are willing to offer just about any service if it can make a small profit ...

Hair salons do brisk trade. Here is a glimpse inside one of these, in a converted container ... 

Barbed wire doing double duty as a clothes line, below, and around a pre-school is a reminder that crime is also rife ...

Iziko Lobomi (centre of life, though iziko means 'hearth') community centre, run by a local Christian group, provides skills training, a soup kitchen, social services, and a venue for people to make and sell arts and crafts.

The dogs caught my heart too, especially as one of my own started life in this township 

My favourite pic of all? This little girl who waved at us from the window of the bus taking her home from day-care (her friend's hand waving like a starfish above her head)...


  1. I do so love your Africa.

  2. Your photographs are fantastic and humbling at the same time Karen. Colour is everywhere. The children are beautiful and I like the 'best friends' as much as the waving child.

  3. Awesome photos my dearest aunt! Great to see the pics, having heard the stories! The last one of the little girl is an absolute winner! x

  4. Aww thanks, dearest niece! Your comment has reminded me to send you a lovely pic of your film-star dog!

  5. All I can say - Very touching!

  6. Dear Karen,
    I looked through all the posts I have missed, fascinating! A world I do not know and hope to see a bit one fine day, though.

    Sorry for being such an infrequent commenter.
    It is such a busy time, will go on until the semester ends (end of June).
    Other issues too.

  7. Hi there Karen,

    I must agree with Bella, you really have captured the essence of the township in your amazing pics. Having said that I am a far less accomplished photographer and would be ever so grateful if you could grant me permission to use some of your pics to be included in an A4 brochure to promote tours in the area.

    The company in question is Imizamo Yethu Tours run by a very passionate young man named Mzukisi Lembeni.

    Will be more than happy to credit you for the use of the images.

    Looking forward to a favouarble response.


  8. Hi Karen I came across your blog doing some fundraising research on Imizamo Yethu for a local project. I've been pulling together some material and videos on Cape Town townships on my website here http://www.fergusmurraysculpture.com/south-africa/cape-townships/voices-from-the-townships/
    I liked your photos and the other entries of your blog I quickly looked at. Best wishes Fergus Murray

  9. Great pic im from ther you are a great photographer


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