The townships are an ugly reminder of Apartheid - under Apartheid, racial groups were forced by law to do everything separate; from where one lived to where you were allowed to eat, to where you could even sit in public. This was how Jim Crow was for blacks in the U.S. South Africa is only 20 years removed from this reality where rule of law, legislative statutes and the entire apparatus of the state including the police, courts, schools, etc worked in unison to oppress the non-white majority. A person was limited in the access that they had to society's institutions, and forget about justice...many were physically abused and killed for trying to buck the system. Fortunately the paradigm has shifted, but the inequalities and the legacy of Apartheid remains.
To me the townships represent a stark reminder of how far South Africa has to go. The townships are 99% black and the conditions of people who live there are bad. They are still segregated and they live in shacks with tin roofs. Because of the locations of the townships (right outside or at the fringe of the metropolises) they are overcrowded with people who have to travel into the cities in order to work. These same people cannot afford a home or rent inside of the city. More and more folks flock to the cities from the country for jobs, and as a consequence these townships grow...they swell. Langa and Khayelitsha are two townships which we had the fortune to travel to.
Interesting to see how some people who are able to save money actually stay in the townships. One of the homes that we visited started as a one room shack, then grew to a two room shack, and so on and so forth until after 30 or so some odd years (as told by the owner), that shack was no longer a shack, but an impressive abode which even housed a restaurant (which hands down had some of the best food that I have eaten while here). Also interesting that in Langa, there was a section of that township which was known as Beverly Hills, because the people who had good jobs and had acquired some status stayed in that part. Those houses had gates and were sprawling and well kept, yet it was still part of the township and the people where members of the community. This shows how the spirit of community predominates throughout this land. The govt is currently building houses at a frenzied pace to keep up with the demand, and a lot of these townships are being invested in. I can write on and on, but I will leave it at that. Suffice to say, millions still live in one room shacks with a dirt floor, tins walls, and tin roof with no toilet, sink or running water.