During apartheid

Rondavels in a homeland area
The law during apartheid times, made by whites, dictated that black people had to be separated from the whites. Black people did not live with the whites. They were geographically separated in two different tways. The blacks lived in so-called townships near the big towns, in which white people lived. The other areas where the rest of the black population lived were the
There were ten homelands – also known as Bantustans: Transkei, Bophtuthatswana, Venda (the father of Johannes came from there), Ciskei, Gazankulu, KwaNdebele, KwaZulu, Lebowa and Qwaqwa. The homelands were generally very poor. Their income came mostly from direct transfer payments from Pretoria (Capital City of South Africa). So the Bantustans were not popular among the black population and neither was life there.
The following information about the living conditions in the homelands is mostly from the book Kaffir Boy (Page 87) because we could not find any information on this theme on the internet nor in our library.
The roads which led to a homeland or which were part of a homeland were often unpaved and with each rainfall they became "treacherous quagmires". There were four different types of houses, which are described in the book. At first and for the most part the houses were made of little thatched huts with floors and porches covered with cow dung. Others were made of crumpling adobe, and these stood among clumps of thorns. Still others were made of tin and cardboard and sacks. Only a few houses were like the ones that csn be seen in townships.
In the homeland described in the book little grew anywhere except near public lavatories. The little number of animals was only a handful of scrawny cattle, goats and pigs grazing on stubbles of dry bush.
A township during apartheid was a slum-area near a town – for example Johannesburg. Life in such an environment is described very well in “Kaffir Boy“. And in the whole of South Africa the housing and infrastructure in the townships was very similar.
Poor housing conditions in a township during apartheid time.
The number of people and shacks in the townships was not easy to count. There was little order and structure. Crime rate, poverty and hunger were a much bigger problem than in the cities where the whites lived.

Today’s situation

In the areas of housing and infrastructure a lot has changed since apartheid. The living conditions are better now but it is still hard to live in a township. Let us take a look at Soweto, a well-known township near Johannesburg and at Johannesburg itself, which is the largest city in South Africa.


The name “Soweto” is made up of “South Western Townships”. Logically there are almost only black people living in Soweto. This area is to a great extent composed of so-called “matchbox” houses, built by the government. The structure of the houses and the streets is very reminiscent of a prison camp. Lights in a high attitude shine during the whole
Matchbox house in Soweto
night and illuminate the 150 square kilometers of Soweto where over 1’300’000 people live. In Soweto there are 230 schools, one university, 300 churches, a pizzeria, and a yoga-school. The first shopping centre was built in 2002. In the early morning, when the smog from the coal burning stoves hangs over the city, there are thousands of commuters on their way to Johannesburg, crowding the taxi ranks.
The housing space of the Mamatela family is barely eight square meters wide. Today there are about fifteen family members who have to live in this small-sized matchbox. This family is a prime example of the actual housing and living conditions. The little house stands side by side, wall by wall with the other matchboxes. In front of the house, the street consists of dirt, mud and litter. The children – a big part of the population – have no other playground than the streets. However, there are a few very rich black people living in Soweto. They have big villas with big walls around them to keep criminals out.
There is hope for a better future in Soweto. The mayor of Soweto – a woman – has big plans for the coming years. She wants to upgrade the local infrastructure and to improve living conditions in general.


In recent years Johannesburg's city center has become poorer and poorer, whereas the northern parts such as Parktown, Saxonwold, Houghton, Rosebank, Hyde Park, Sandton and Morningside represent the top end of housing. Mostly rich whites and people from the growing black middle class live there.
Due to the growing population of Johannesburg the demand for water grows also. As a result water from other parts of the country has to be piped there. As for transport, people rely on a basic bus system. There are also private taxi companies, whose minibuses are a common feature in the streets of Johannesburg. Thousands of commuters travel into Johannesburg by train every day.

Commuter trains in South Africa.
The future promises improvements. The reason is the world soccer championships 2010, which take place in South Africa. "Blue IQ Project" is the name of a project which should at least partly solve the problems. The government has built the high-speed train system nicknamed "Gautrain". It is designed to transport about 160'000 people per day.
There are four airports in Johannesburg, one international and 3 private.
The political party in power (called ANC) promised all homeless people houses for free. People were full of hope. The government has not been able to realize this project. There is too much of a backlog. Where poor people do not have to make a financial contribution towards their new house, they tend not to look after it.


Between the years 1994 and 2000 millions of people obtained access to electricity and clean running water. Many more people living in South Africa now have water to drink, cook and wash and they now have energy for lightning, ironing, heating water, cooking and the use of radio and television.
Big problems are not solved yet. A very impressive number of about 7 million people in South Africa live in local government areas where there is no infrastructure for the supply of water. There are also problems with electricity. Many ways to finance free access to electricity for poor people living in matchboxes and shacks have been discussed, but the government has taken no decision. Some poor people solve the problem by just stealing electricity from the nearest power line.


Wikipedia: South Africa
Richard Knight: Housing in South Africa
Merian, Südafrika
U. Gerber, personal communication