About Masiphumelele


Masiphumelele - 'Let's succeed'

Masiphumelele is an IsiXhosa word that translates to 'Let us succeed'. This word is fitting for this community of people who decided moved to this area in order to build their lives into a suceess. Masiphumelele is about 40 km/25 miles south of Cape Town. It is less than one mile (2 km) wide and covers approximately 0.45 km ²/110 acres.

Various sources quote the population of Masiphumelele as being between 26,000 or 30,000 people. There is no accurate contemporary Government census data available. A 2010 survey conducted as part of a Ph.D. project has put the figure at 38,000 plus.



Apartheid—meaning separateness in Afrikaans - was a system of legal racial segregation enforced by the National Party government in South Africa between 1948 and 1994.

Apartheid legislation classified inhabitants into racial groups (black, white, coloured, and Indian), and residential areas were segregated by means of forced removals. Blacks were stripped of their citizenship; legally becoming citizens of one of ten tribally based self-governing homelands or Bantustans, four of which became nominally independent states. The government segregated education, medical care, and other public services, and provided black people with services inferior to those of whites.

During the Apartheid era, blacks were evicted from properties that were in areas designated as "white only" and forced to move into townships.

The origins of Masiphumelele

In the early 1980s, a group of 400-500 people started the first informal settlement close to where Masiphumelele is today. It was in the bush area near to the junction where the Long Beach shopping mall is now located. Under the old Apartheid laws, the families were chased away and moved on by force.

The people were told that they had to live in the poorly set up township of Khayelitsha, on the outskirts of Cape Town, more than 30 kilometres away. For those who had found work in the Fish Hoek area, this meant a long journey on a bicycle or public transport every day. They tried, again and again, to move back to where they had first set up camp.

Nearly ten years later, in 1991/92 as Apartheid was ending, they tried again. A group of people from Khayelitsha, joined by a few thousand people from the Eastern Cape who hoped to find work in the area, moved onto what was then known as "Site 5". It was renamed Masiphumelele by the people soon after.

In the early 1990s about 8000 people built their shacks and simple homes and started to set up their own community. Until 1995 there was not even a building for a school or a clinic.


City of Cape Town Statistics

Masiphumelele is no longer an 'informal township' it is part of Ward 69 of Cape Town. Cape Town surveys its population from time to time - for budget and other planning reasons.

A survey in 1996, estimated that there were 4,442 people, and in 2001 8242 people

The population had nearly doubled in those 5 years and has grown by more than three times since then. It is now very out-of-date.

Official census statistics in all townships in South Africa are unreliable, mainly because the residents are very often unwilling to cooperate with the census-takers for fear it will be to their disadvantage in some way.

Poverty Statistics

This aerial photograph was taken by Johny Miller to show spacial inequality in Cape Town.

How many people live in Masiphumelele? In 2005 a draft report on the socio-economic profile of Ward 69, which contains Fish Hoek, Masiphumelele, Noordhoek and Sunningdale, reported that the population of the entire ward was 23,684.

According to the report, just over 35% of the Ward 69’s population had an annual income of less than 19,200 Rand (i.e. zero or less than approximately $ 2500 per year). Within Ward 69, Fish Hoek, Noordhoek and Sunningdale are pleasant residential areas, so one can assume that most of the people on low incomes live in Masiphumelele.

Working from these income statistics, Masiphumelele would have a working age population of 8469 (i.e. 35% of 23,684). If we then add an average of 1 child per two adults, that\'s 12,703 living in Masiphumelele. However, the population has grown significantly since 2005 and some estimates suggest that it has now passed 40,000.


Health - TB and HIV


TB (Tuberculosis) is the most common opportunistic infection and the single most common cause of death in HIV infected people in Africa today. TB has been shown to accelerate the progression of HIV disease. At the age of five, 20% of children in Masiphumelele are already infected with tuberculosis (TB). When these children enter high school, about half are infected with TB. By the time they become young adults, the infection rate has increased to roughly 80%.

A community census is performed every second year, since 2002. These censuses have enabled the development of a population model for the community of Masiphumelele, including a community HIV model. The last census was performed in 2018. The Desmond Tutu youth centre says that According to the 2018 census, the HIV prevalence in Masiphumelele is 23-25% among adults (the majority among women) and 10% among adolescents aged 11 - 19 years. There are currently 1900 patients receiving HAART at the Masiphumelele clinic (July 2019). A further cohort of patients from Masiphumelele receive HAART at False Bay Hospital. HIV incidence of up to 7.2/100 per person has been reported in this community.



No formal survey data available but based on work undertaken by ourselves and other NGOs and from a personal observation about 15% of residents are housed in brick or block built houses and 85% in shacks of various types.

Most land in Masiphumelele is now divided up into erven/erfs [plots] and owned by the settlers who originally occupied the space. They were granted legal title to their erf by the City of Cape Town. These landowners qualify for the State housing subsidy [currently R82,000] which they can claim through the State’s appointed house builder – most often in Masiphumelele a specialist charity/NGO such as The Mellon Foundation or Habitat for Housing. Mellon, with the State subsidy and funds from their foundation, has built over 300 houses in the past 5 years [2008-2013].

There are relatively few erfs – about 950 – and if every family in the township were to have one small plot allocated to them, it would require a land area of perhaps 50 times the current size of Masiphumelele.

So most residents still live in shacks – ‘back-shacks’ if they are built on land owned privately as above, and just ‘shacks’ if they are located in the wetlands area on rough, damp land owned by the City of  Cape Town.

If all you can afford is a single room shack, then you have enough space for one double bed, something on which to stand your cooktop, a small refrigerator, probably with an old TV on top, and some cartons and suitcases for all your worldly goods. The floor is the dirt beneath your feet and most people will have a piece of linoleum or carpet.

You can get connected to electricity but water is from a standpipe and a toilet will be within 50 metres and shared with many others – queuing is a way of life.

Most Masiphumelele families, of up to 5 or 6, live in one or two roomed shacks. Sleeping is by rota in the bed.

Masicorp built 23 brick construction houses in the first 10 years of its existence for erf owners and there are other NGO’s working in the area, most notably and successfully the Mellon Foundation mentioned earlier and the Amakhaya ngoku Housing Association. As of January 2014, 232 families have been re-housed in 8 blocks of flats with a community hall and park/playground under construction.


Shacks get built from anything that comes to hand: wooden pallets on-end for the walls, plastic sheeting nailed to the outside to keep out the wind and cardboard cartons pinned to the inside to keep out the cold. A few sheets of corrugated tin and some wood to support it are needed for the roof, as are a few big stones on top to help keep it place in the Cape storms. Heating in the winter is necessary, and the cheapest way to heat a shack is to use a paraffin heater.

A shack is not well ventilated in any event and paraffin heaters put out heat and a lot of moisture. They keep people warm, but they also contribute to the many respiratory health problems that residents of Masiphumelele suffer. 

Over the years, there have been fires that have ravaged the community of Masiphumelele. The most recent fire incident occured in 19 May 2019, leaving one person dead. The nearing communities came to the aid of the 1200 people who were left displaced.