According to the World bank, as much as half of South Africa’s urban population lives in townships and informal settlements, accounting for 38% of working-age citizens, but home to nearly 60% of its unemployed.
Under apartheid, black South Africans were forced to live in the dormitory-style townships that were built as far away as possible from economic city centers.
Post-apartheid development policies led to the construction of townships filled with government housing, though the country has widespread informal settlements, particularly on the outskirts of urban areas.
While townships under apartheid were mainly reserved for for black South Africans, in a post-apartheid world the term has distinct a legal meaning in South Africa’s system of land title, which carries no racial connotations.
Greater Johannesburg, including all of its surrounding cities and districts, is by large the biggest metropolitan area in the country, boosted significantly by the wide net of smaller cities that make up the mega-city – including Soweto.
Looking at townships, however, the most recent population data from Stats SA shows that Soweto is by far the biggest in the country, located on the South Western area of the metro.
These are the 20 biggest townships in the country (Stats SA, 2011)
|#||Township||2011 Population||Neighbouring town|
|1||Soweto||1 271 628||Johannesburg|
|2||Tembisa||463 109||Kempton Park|
|6||Khayelitsha||391 749||Cape Town|
|8||Mitchell’s Plain||310 485||Cape Town|
|9||Ibhayi||237 799||Port Elizabeth|
|12||Ivory Park||184 383||Midrand|
|17||Mdantsane||156 835||East London|
Data provided by StatsSA in its 2016 community survey showed a gradual increase in the number of households living in formal dwellings over time from 65.1% in 1996 to 79.2% in 2016.
The percentage of households living in traditional dwellings has declined sharply from 18.3% in 1996 to 7% in 2016. Those living in informal dwellings – defined as a wood and iron structure – have decreased slightly from 16.2% in 1996 to 13.0% in 2016.
|Province||Formal dwelling||Informal dwelling||Other dwelling||Traditional||Total|
|Gauteng||4.03m||878 246||32 129||10 763||4.95m|
|KwaZulu-Natal||2.09m||245 167||20 166||520 244||2.88m|
|Western Cape||1.59m||320 022||10 302||94 001||1.93m|
|Eastern Cape||1.15m||130 885||15 828||471 699||1.77m|
|Limpopo||1.42m||77 371||18 304||81 747||1.60m|
|Mpumalanga||1.05m||135 039||14 747||39 992||1.30m|
|North West||977 031||229 544||18 799||23 146||1.2m|
|Free State||791 485||132 448||7 137||15 509||946 579|
|Northern Cape||295 318||45 246||4 858||8 245||353 667|
|South Africa||13.4m||2.19m||142 270||1.27m||16.92m|