Life In South African Shanty Towns

Last Updated on November 23, 2023

A shanty town, also known as a squatter settlement, is a slum settlement (could be illegal or unauthorized) made up of ‘homes’ made from plywood, metal, and cardboard boxes. Often these towns do not have proper sanitation, water or electricity.

The one-room shacks provide the rudest sort of shelter. Crime is a big problem for the inhabitants. Most of the country’s criminals reside in these settlements, making life for the innocent ones living there very dangerous.

Driving through South Africa it was quite difficult to see some of these poor conditions and made us re-evaluate what is really important in life.

The best way to learn about a shanty town in the most respectful way is to explore it with one of the many south africa group tours.

We felt like horrible people taking photos, but at the same time wanted to bring back some photos to show what some of the conditions are like for the ‘have-nots’ of South Africa.

This is what we saw:

A small shanty town not far from Cape Point
A Small Shanty Town We Passed As We Drove
A Small Shanty Town We Passed As We Drove
A Shanty Town – As Seen From A Helicopter

Imizamo Yethu Township  was established in the early 1990’s. Mainly black people were allowed to build homes known as ‘shacks’ or temporary shelters.  Since many of the black residents of Hout Bay could not afford, and by law were not allowed to buy property or homes in Hout Bay, they were left with no choice but to find vacant land and build their temporary homes. Before 1990, the conditions were like other shanty towns found along the road or in other random areas.

A few years ago these residents lived in small corrugated iron shacks that measured no more than 9ft x 9ft. Running water was not available and inhabitants had to share outside sanitation facilities.

Even with improvements, this is still what you find today:

Craft Shop
Barber Shop & Waiting Area
Curious Kids
More ‘Shops’
Walking The Streets

It was the help of Irish businessman, Niall Mellon, that resulted in more than three hundred brand new, high quality homes of brick being built.


Have you ever witnessed a shanty town? What were your thoughts and feelings as you saw what was happening? What did you think and feel afterwards?