To the north of Cape Town is a sizable region of wind-blown, flat, the mostly sand-covered territory known as the Cape Flats. Over a million people live in the area, which has been referred to fairly accurately as the “dumping ground of apartheid,” where thousands of “non-white” households were forced to relocate as a result of the Group Areas Act. They make a living by combining townships and informal settlements. The area is completely unique and has developed into a vibrant and culturally diverse part of the city that stands in stark contrast to the predominantly “white” suburbs of Cape Town, despite its origins and the harsh conditions under which people still live.
The N2 is flanked by tin and wood shacks that give off the sense of poverty and limited access to amenities, giving many visitors their first impression of the mother city. These shacks persisted despite the nation’s successful candidacy for the 2010 FIFA World Cup. The mayor of the city estimates that it will take 30 years to upgrade informal settlements and that there is already a 400 000-unit housing shortage in the city.
However, one of the most illuminating and enriching activities you can partake in while in Cape Town is a tour of the townships of Langa, Gugulethu, Khayelitsha, Cross Roads, Mitchell’s Plain, and Manenberg. For better or worse, this area is regarded as the birthplace of Cape Town’s soul, and there is an abundance of art, crafts, music, and entrepreneurship in a collective display of making the best of a difficult situation.
You can better understand how South Africans actually live if you take into account their pervasive “Cape sense of humour,” or their capacity to find the humour in even the most trying circumstances. The Cape Flats are known for their flat, sandy plains, but they are also a vast wetland and unique stranded vegetation, which has been severely impacted by urbanization.