The Townships and Robben Island

It would be wonderful if all of Cape Town offered fine restaurants, scenic views and interesting markets. But poverty and the legacy of South Africa's many years of apartheid still haunt the city.

In the center of town is a large vacant area that once was a vibrant community, primarily of Cape Town's "Coloreds" (people classified under apartheid between Whites and Blacks). In 1966, however, "District Six," as the area was known, was designated by the apartheid government as "White only," 50,000 people were evicted and the entire community, save a church and a mosque, fell before the bulldozer. An international outcry delayed development of the area and it now sits like an ugly scar on the otherwise beautiful face of Cape Town. The former residents were forced to move into "townships" well outside the city that were classified by race. Today, despite the end of apartheid and advent of majority rule in 1994, the townships still exist and thousands of people are now confined to them by poverty rather than government decree. Although there have been efforts since majority rule to bring electricity, water and other services into the townships (many of which started as squatter camps of tiny makeshift shacks), there is still a long way to go. For more information, visit the website of the District Six Museum.

Visitors to Cape Town can also take the short ferry ride out to Robben Island, where many members of the African National Congress (ANC) and other liberation movements were held as political prisoners. Nelson Mandela, who would in 1994 become South Africa's first majority-elected president, spent many years here in a tiny cell. The former prison is now a museum. For more information, visit the website of the Robben Island Museum.

Other South Africa pages: South Africa: Introduction, Cape Peninsula & Southern Coast, Cape Town, Djuma Game Reserve and Great White Sharks.