A report on informal settlements in South Africa

A field report By Gwen Shulman

Back in January, I was in Cape Town. My very first impression was its gleaming airport—wallpapered with slick ads promoting South Africa as THE IDEAL investment destination.

But, the very moment you leave the airport, you’re confronted with one of the most flagrant failures of post-apartheid SA. Radiating out from the airport, as far as the eye can see, are sprawling tintowns, informal settlements, shanties, squats…whatever you wish to call them, they translate into 10s of 1000s of people living in the most precarious conditions imaginable.

Today, half of all South Africans live below the poverty line, many well below it. Unemployment hovers at a disastrous 25%.

One of the most searing manifestations of this dispossession is in the area of housing. In Cape Town alone, 1 million people live in 110,000 self-made shacks. And many of them face eviction.