The townships represent one major element of the context in which the War of Liberation occurred. The vast majority of black South Africans have lived in townships that grew up around the major urban centers throughout the country. These townships evolved haphazardly without any town planning. Urban black South Africans were confined to these squalid areas and denied permission to live in white areas, even if they could afford to do so.


Townships  37" x 46.5"  Mixed Media  1999             (Not for Sale)


While many townships originated from squatter camps, those around the major cities of South Africa were subsequently supplemented by government housing covering vast tracts of land with hundreds of identical, 'match-box', four-roomed, bare, brick bungalows which could be rented but not purchased. Government housing was frequently without electricity and water was only available from outside taps. Washing facilities were very limited and streets were often without lighting. Population density was and remains very high and townships were primarily bedroom communities with few social amenities and virtually no commercial activity.


The squatter housing was and still is nothing more than a makeshift shelter formed with whatever materials are at hand - scraps of iron, corrugated tin, plastic sheeting, sticks, mud, straw and cardboard. In these areas there is no running water or electricity and a single communal water pump often serves hundreds. There are no washing facilities for people, dishes or clothing and open drains often overflow with sewage. So the townships evolved as a patchwork of rickety, ramshackle structures, a conglomeration of building materials and found objects - all haphazardly scattered and squeezed onto the landscape.


The colors are muted, dull, polluted by smoke and covered with dust since few, if any roads, are paved. There is no focal point; no sense of order or planning; yet there is a sense of community and people make the most of what they have. For those township inhabitants, no matter how small, simple or crude their dwelling, it is home. You will often find some small patch of color or something precious and special that signifies that this is home. It is this landscape, this atmosphere and this feeling that I have tried to capture in Townships. Just outside Johannesburg is South Africa's largest and most famous township, Soweto (Southwest township) which is now home to about one million people.


In the late 1980's and early 1990's the Blacks began to disregard the 'influx control laws' (which determined where black people lived and worked). They migrated to urban areas and flooded the townships. Vast squatter camps strewn across the landscape sprang up; they were extremely congested, overcrowded, poor and unsanitary. These impoverished areas provided a fertile breeding ground for recruits for the War of Liberation, but also led to extreme social pressures and violence became endemic. This wave of migration to the cities and the presence of these squatter camps created a new set of conditions for the Nationalist government to deal with. This situation exerted additional pressures for the government to begin to yield to Black demands for change.


Only after the first all-race elections in April 1994 under the New South Africa, were black people allowed to live wherever they could afford to. As former township residents move into former white-only cities and suburbs, and, as rural residents migrate to the urban areas so the composition of neighborhoods, townships, suburbs and cities is rapidly changing with attendant new social and economic problems and increasing volatility and violence. The growth of squatter camps around the townships and within the cities and suburbs has mushroomed as rural blacks seek new opportunities and exercise their freedom of movement. As a result, providing housing for South Africa's poor is the current government's highest priority. Under the New South African government between March 1994 and November 1996, 123,000 of the one million housing units promised were built or under construction. 380,000 housing subsidies were approved by Provincial Housing Boards for this same period*. In order to keep up with South Africa's population growth, 220,000 housing units would have to be built annually.


*(Source: SA Govt. Website).