According to the World bank, as much as half of South Africa’s urban population lives in townships and informal settlements, accounting for 38% of working-age citizens, but home to nearly 60% of its unemployed.
Under apartheid, black South Africans were forced to live in the dormitory-style townships that were built as far away as possible from economic city centers.
Post-apartheid development policies led to the construction of townships filled with government housing, though the country has widespread informal settlements, particularly on the outskirts of urban areas.
While townships under apartheid were mainly reserved for for black South Africans, in a post-apartheid world the term has distinct a legal meaning in South Africa’s system of land title, which carries no racial connotations.
Greater Johannesburg, including all of its surrounding cities and districts, is by large the biggest metropolitan area in the country, boosted significantly by the wide net of smaller cities that make up the mega-city – including Soweto.
Looking at townships, however, the most recent population data from Stats SA shows that Soweto is by far the biggest in the country, located on the South Western area of the metro.
These are the 20 biggest townships in the country (Stats SA, 2011)
#Township2011 PopulationNeighbouring town
1Soweto1 271 628Johannesburg
2Tembisa463 109Kempton Park
3Katlehong407 294Germiston
4Umlazi404 811Durban
5Soshanguve403 162Pretoria
6Khayelitsha391 749Cape Town
 7Mamelodi334 577Pretoria
8Mitchell’s Plain310 485Cape Town
9Ibhayi237 799Port Elizabeth
10Sebokeng218 515Vanderbijlpark
11Manguang217 076Bloemfontein
12Ivory Park184 383Midrand
13Botshabelo181 712Bloemfontein
14Alexandra179 624Sandton
15Kwa-Mashu175 663Durban
16Vosloorus163 216Boksburg
17Mdantsane156 835East London
18Etwatwa151 866Benoni
19Meadowlands138 345Roodepoort
20Tsakane135 994Brakpan
Data provided by StatsSA in its 2016 community survey showed a gradual increase in the number of households living in formal dwellings over time from 65.1% in 1996 to 79.2% in 2016.
The percentage of households living in traditional dwellings has declined sharply from 18.3% in 1996 to 7% in 2016. Those living in informal dwellings – defined as a wood and iron structure – have decreased slightly from 16.2% in 1996 to 13.0% in 2016.
ProvinceFormal dwellingInformal dwellingOther dwellingTraditionalTotal
Gauteng4.03m878 24632 12910 7634.95m
KwaZulu-Natal2.09m245 16720 166520 2442.88m
Western Cape1.59m320 02210 30294 0011.93m
Eastern Cape1.15m130 88515 828471 6991.77m
Limpopo1.42m77 37118 30481 7471.60m
Mpumalanga1.05m135 03914 74739 9921.30m
North West977 031229 54418 79923 1461.2m
Free State791 485132 4487 13715 509946 579
Northern Cape295 31845 2464 8588 245353 667
South Africa13.4m2.19m142 2701.27m16.92m
Source: businesstech