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Township: the true meaning?

December 28, 2013

The word “township” is glibly used interchangeably to define everything and anything that is not a suburb.

Its important that we consider the words we use and how we use them.

In this case, the term township (or location) usually refers to the (often underdeveloped) urban living areas that, from the late 19th century until the end of Apartheid, were reserved for non-whites (black Africans, Coloureds and Indians) in South Africa.

Townships were usually built on the periphery of towns and cities.

The term “township” also has a distinct legal meaning, in South Africa’s system of land title, that carries no racial connotations.

The legal meaning of the term “township” in South Africa differs from the popular usage, and has a precise legal meaning without any racial connotations. The term is used in land titles and townships are subdivided into erfs (stands).

“Township” can also mean a designated area or district. For instance “Industrial Township” has been used in reference to an industrial area, e.g. “Westmead Industrial Township”, in Pinetown.

Often a township (in the legal sense) is established, and then adjoining townships, with the same name as the original township, and with a numbered “Extension” suffix are later established[citation needed]. For example the Johannesburg suburb of Bryanston has an extension called Bryanston Extension 3.

Relationship with “suburb”:

In traditionally or historically white areas, the term “suburb” is used for legally-defined residential townships in everyday conversation.

A suburb’s boundaries are often regarded as being the same as the (legal) township boundaries, along with its numbered extensions, and it usually shares its name with the township (with some notable exceptions, such as the Johannesburg suburb known as Rivonia, which is actually the township of Edenburg with numbered extensions called Rivonia Extensions).

Occasionally formerly independent towns, such as Sandton (which itself consists of numerous suburbs), are referred to as “suburbs”. In the Western Cape, entire clusters of suburbs a geographically associated with their location on a compass, namely the northern suburbs, or the southern suburbs. However, the eastern suburbs of Cape Town, which are made up of a cluster of townships of the Cape flats don’t enjoy the same declared demarcation.

Relationship with “ghetto”:

Township differ with “ghettos” in that a ghetto is a part of a city in which members of a minority group live, especially because of social, legal, or economic pressure, whereas in South Africa this where the majority of South Africans live.

Relationship with “Informal Settlements” or shanty towns:

A shanty town is a slum settlement of plywood, corrugated metal, sheets of plastic, and cardboard boxes. They are usually found on the periphery of cities, public parks, or near railroad tracks, rivers, lagoons or city trash dump sites. Sometimes called a squatter, informal or spontaneous settlement, shanty towns often lack proper sanitation, safe water supply, electricity, hygienic streets, or other basic human necessities.

Shanty towns are prevalent globally, in mostly developing countries.

In South Africa, these areas a predominantly located within and on the edges of townships and can sometimes be found mushrooming in place with no public services like clean water, sewerage, road network or even electricity.

Relationship with “Squatter Camps”

In South Africa, squatters tend to live in informal settlements or squatter camps on the outskirts of the larger cities, often but not always near townships. In 1994, when Nelson Mandela was elected President, it was estimated that of South Africa’s 44 million inhabitants, 7.7 million lived in these settlements.

The number has grown rapidly in the post-apartheid era. Many buildings, particularly in the inner city of Johannesburg have also been occupied by squatters.

Property owners or government authorities can usually evict squatters after following certain legal procedures including requesting a court order. In Durban, the city council routinely evicts without a court order in defiance of the law, and there has been sustained conflict between the city council and a shack dwellers’ movement known as Abahlali baseMjondolo.

There has been a number of similar conflicts between shack dwellers, some linked with the Western Cape Anti-Eviction Campaign, and the city council in Cape Town.

One of the most high-profile cases was the brutal evictions of squatters in the N2 Gateway homes in the suburb of Delft, where over 20 residents were shot, including a three-year-old child. There have been numerous complaints about the legality of the government’s actions and, in particular, whether the ruling of the judge was unfair given his party affiliations and the highly politicized nature of the case.

Many of the families are now squatting on Symphony Way, a main road in the township of Delft. The City of Cape Town has been threatening them with eviction since February 2008.

Source: Wikipedia

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One Comment
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