Khayelitsha Township

Khayelitsha Township lies some 19km east of Wynberg and 25 km of south-east of Cape Town in the Western Cape. The name is of Xhosa origin and means ‘new home’.

Origin of Khayelitsha

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Then Prime Minister, P.W. Botha promised fair treatment for Black people who resided in urban areas, though he persisted with influx control. He embarked on negotiations with Crossroads residents aimed at either upgrading the settlement or providing an alternative due to the overcrowding in the area. A small number of brick houses were erected at New Crossroads, near Old Crossroads. The houses were leased to ‘legals’ who could afford them.

In 1983, Dr. Piet Koornhof, the Minister of Cooperation and Development, overturned this promise to Crossroads residents. He announced that all ‘legal’ residents of the Cape Peninsula living in squatter camps or existing townships would be housed in a newly proposed 3220-hectare site located to the south-east, between N2 and False Bay, to be called Khayelitsha , or ‘New Home’.

Khayelitsha Township was established in the same year to accommodate informal settlement dwellers on the Cape Flats, the majority coming from Old Crossroads to escape the violence by the ‘Witdoeke’ (a notorious vigilante group) under the control of Johnson Ngxobongwana. The settlement began with a tented town.

Khayelitsha was built under the principle of racial segregation executed by the government. Due to the  immense influx of people, it is the second biggest Black township in South Africa after Soweto in Johannesburg.   The government envisaged Khayelitsha as a relocation point to accommodate all 'legal' residents of the Cape Peninsula, whether they were in informal settlements or in existing townships, in one new purposely built and easily controlled township. The government classified people as legal if they had already lived in the area for ten years.

The initial plan was to create four towns, each with 30,000 residents in brick houses, a proportion of which were to be privately owned.

The government further planned to move all ‘illegal’ people to Transkei, a homeland created in the eastern part of the country. People living in existing townships near Cape Town fiercely resisted this move. Fights broke out in townships between the government and residents. These fights caused more people to move to Khayelitsha. From all of this it was obvious that the removals were done forcibly rather than voluntarily.

In 1984, the National Party’s Cape Congress resolved to drop the Coloured Labour Preference policy and conceded Khayelitsha residents to apply for 99-year leaseholds. About 100 000 residents whom were considered to be ‘illegal’ were repatriated to their homelands in the Eastern Cape Province.  By 1986, some 8300 people had occupied 4150 site and service plots at Site C, site and service mains demarcated plots, each with a tap and toilet,  and a further 13 000 residents rented 5 000 tiny core houses on plots of 150 square metres in Town 1. A core house was a small cement-brick structure that could be extended into a larger house.  During the same time, the 99 year leaseholds houses were also developed at Site B.

Khayelitsha grew rapidly after its proclamation. During the 1990s,  migrants from the Eastern Cape, previously deterred by influx control, arrived in search of work. By 1995 there were over half a million people living in Khayelitsha. Many brought their cattle and were able to earn an income by selling milk to township residents. 

• Smith V.B., van Heyningen E., Worden N. (1999), Cape Town in the twentieth century, (David Philip), p.212
•  Raper E.P (2004), New Dictionary of South African Place Names, (Jonathan Ball), p.175
•  Umtha Welanga, Historical Background of Khayelitsha, [online], Available at [Accessed: 24 October 2013]
•  Cape Town  site,  Khayelitsha, [online], Available at [Accessed: 25 October 2013]
•  Cape, The History of Khayelitsha, [online], Available at [Accessed: 28 October 2013]

Last updated : 12-Nov-2013

This article was produced for South African History Online on 08-Nov-2013