Getting Khayelitsha into perspective

Published Apr 5, 2014



Cape Town - Climbs the wooden steps to the top of Lookout Hill, a lone koppie standing on the sandy expanse of the Cape Flats, and you can look down over Khayelitsha’s vast eastward sprawl.

Look north and you’ll see Mew Way, Khayelitsha’s potholed western boundary road, as it passes the brick houses of the emerging area of Khaya, before it enters the shacklands of Site B, where vendors sell doors, toilets, windows, corrugated iron sheets and even pre-built shacks.

Due East, lie the areas of Town 2, Makaya and, 3km further, Makhaza, which forms the township’s eastern boundary. From Lookout Hill you can see the red, black and grey roofs of hundreds of brick houses, interspersed with vast pylons that provide lighting at night.

The cluster of buildings in the middle distance includes the Khayelitsha Mall and the central business district, where a new six-storey office block is under construction.

To the south-east, the sun glints off the corrugated iron roofs of the thousands of shacks in the Enkanini informal settlement – the biggest such area in Khayelitsha and home to 60 000 people, more than live in Langa.

Two weeks ago, Enkanini residents blocked Baden Powell Drive with burning tyres, protesting for better toilets, water and electricity.

Look south, and Mew Way leads past the neat Ilitha Park to the Endlovini informal settlement and the blue sea of False Bay.

To the West lies Mitchells Plain, separated from Khayelitsha by a kilometre and a half of undeveloped scrub land where some 30 goats graze.

For Loyiso Mfuku from Khayelitsha Travel, Lookout Hill allows visitors to see how the township has grown since it was founded in 1983.

Mfuku explains that, as informal settlements make way for formal housing, new shack settlements spring up on the township’s outskirts. The township’s boundaries have been continually pushed outward over the years. Its population has grown to between 400 000 and 450 000, meaning you can (just) fit the entire populations of Mitchells Plain, Langa and Nyanga into the township. Residents say these official figures are too low, and it is often claimed that the area in fact has over a million residents.

Census data shows that Khayelitsha is both richer and more developed than a decade ago, but the area is still one of the poorest in the Cape Town metro and protests over housing, crime and sanitation are common.

In 2001, two in three residents lived in shacks. Ten years later, the 2011 census found almost half lived in formal housing, after 25 000 new houses were built over the preceding decade.

But the flow of newcomers arriving in the township meant that, while the proportion of residents living in shacks had decreased, their total number increased.

The latest census found Khayelitsha had 65 000 shacks, housing about 200 000 people or half the township’s population.


For Mfuku, in order to understand the township, visitors should see its lower-middle class areas like Ilitha Park, where houses sell for up to R300 000, as well as informal settlements like Enkanini.

“We are saying that, though there is this negativity around Khayelitsha, there are also positive things,” he says.

Mfuku points to Khayelitsha Mall and its surrounding business district as a recent success story. “There are property offices, lawyers’ offices, panel beaters and surgeries,” he says.

To go from Lookout Hill to the mall, you drive down Spine Road – along which the city has planted rows of trees in an effort to green the suburb – and turn left at Bulumko Secondary School.

Twenty years ago, there was such a shortage of school places that pupils had to be bussed to suburbs far away. Since then, dozens of new schools have been built.

Now gangsterism and fights between knife-wielding “school gangs” concern headmasters.

Last year, an 18-year-old was stabbed to death near Bulumko in a fight between the area’s two main gangs – the Vuras and Vatos.

Turn right at the school and Walter Sisulu Road takes you to the Khayelitsha Mall.

In the parking lot of the SuperSpar, a few BMWs and Toyota Camrys point to the area’s small, but growing middle class. A total of 1 400 household now earn more then R25 000 a month, up from almost none a decade ago.

But the parking lot is small in relation to the township’s population, And, as a stream of commuters gets off trains and taxis, their bulging bags show shopping is still conducted in other areas.

Vusumzi Mamile of the Department of Coffee – which bills itself as Khayelitsha’s first artisan coffee shop – serves very good R8.50 cappuccinos near the station.

He has a standing order to deliver 16 coffees a day to the new District Hospital opposite, and also delivers to the courts.

In an effort to attract tourist rands and euros, a train brings tourists to the coffee shop on weekends. They then often cycle to Lookout Hill and back. “We want people to come from Cape Town,” says Mamile.

The Khayelitsha District Hospital – where Mamile delivers his coffees – was inaugurated in April 2012. But it has already run into problems.

Earlier this year, the Cape Argus reported that doctors were treating patients in the hospital’s corridors because of overcrowding.

Leave the mall, continue down Ntlazane Street past the stadium where the EFF held its provincial manifesto launch and the brick houses of Makaya end and the vast Enkanini informal settlement begins. Overhead, hundreds of multi-coloured illegal electricity connections span the street like spiderwebs.

Enkanini is part of Ward 95, which also includes slivers of Kuyasa and Makhaza. It is one of Khayelitsha’s poorest and fastest-growing areas. Its population ballooned by 250 percent between 2001 and 2011, from 17 000 to about 60 000. Half of its households earn less than R1 600 a month and two out of three still use paraffin for heating.

So-called “poo protester” Loyiso Nkohla started his controversial campaign for better sanitation after meeting Enkanini residents last year.


Enkanini, and other informal settlements, have come under the spotlight at the Khayelitsha Commission of Inquiry into policing.


Residents have complained of slow and patchy police responses, while police – who contend that crime here could be at “unacceptably high levels” – have said navigating its maze of narrow alleyways makes fighting crime difficult, especially at night.

Continue down Ntlazane and turn into Baden Powell Drive, the township’s western boundary.

Climb a scrub-covered hill nearby, look back over the township and what you see is very different to the view from Lookout Hill. In place of neatly arranged houses, you see a sea of shacks.

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Weekend Argus

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