PHOTOGRAPHY AND TEXT BY SIAN MIRANDA SINGH OFAOLAIN
Imizamo Yethu means “through struggle we achieve” in Xhosa, the main language spoken by the township’s residents. The township of Imizamo Yethu was established in 1991 in Cape Town’s wealthy suburb Hout Bay, which was deemed a White area under the 1953 Group Areas Act during Apartheid. Black South Africans who lived in squatter camps in Hout Bay were given public land where the township was to be built.
Currently the township is home to an estimated 20,000 people, including many young children, the vast of majority of whom live in informal shacks. The location of the township among privately owned residential estates in Hout Bay hinders access to land and the physical expansion of the township. As a result, the current conditions there put residents at high risk of disease and fire.
The recent history of Hout Bay demonstrates that the former squatters and current Imizamo Yethu residents, while seemingly an anomaly of poverty-stricken black Africans living in a wealthy white suburb, have actually migrated to the area for the purpose of employment. In the 1970’s and ‘80’s, Hout Bay’s fishing industry peaked in productivity and demanded labor. Around the same time, Hout Bay farms were subdivided for private development, creating a demand for domestic workers in private estates. Employment is the crucial reason for the township’s existence and growth, and serves as the interface for interaction between Hout Bay’s wealthy residents and Imizamo Yethu’s impoverished residents.
The residents of the township have migrated there from all around southern Africa, particularly South Africa’s Eastern Cape, the location of the homelands under Apartheid. Unemployment in the township is estimated at 40%, which is slightly lower than the unemployment rates for other Cape Town townships. Many employed residents send monthly remittances to their parents and children in their hometowns, where unemployment rates can reach 80%.
Current solutions focus on the issues of land and housing for the informal settlers in the township. While land and housing are fundamental issues to ensuring the livelihoods of informal settlers and the Hout Bay community as a whole, there are a number of barriers to addressing the land and housing issues, including land availability and location and the current functioning of government housing subsidies. In addition, there is an important opportunity for interaction and cooperation between Imizamo Yethu residents and Hout Bay residents that has not yet been capitalized upon.
These photographs were taken by Sian Miranda Singh ÓFaoláin WWS ’08 in the spring of 2007 as she conducted research for her junior paper entitled “Land, Housing, and Employment in the Imizamo Yethu Township” as part of the Task Force on land and water.