About the Cape Flats

To the east of central Cape Town in the Western Cape are the Cape Flats, a low-lying, sandy, windswept flatland that the early Dutch knew as Die Groote Woeste Vlakte (‘the great desolate plain’) but which now supports dense residential areas and informal settlements. Most of them were established as dormitories for Cape Town’s black and coloured labour force; few facilities for normal family and social life were provided, and many areas remain poverty-stricken. But conditions are improving, slowly, and there is a vibrant energy amid the deprivation and squalor. Regular tours take visitors into the townships, where they can meet the residents, listen to their music and share their enjoyment. Known to locals as ‘The Flats’, a visit to the area is a unique cultural experience.

The area of the Cape Flats is essentially a vast sheet of aeolian sand, ultimately of marine origin, blown up from adjacent beaches over a vast period of time. Most of the sand is unconsolidated except for some places near the False Bay coast where the oldest sand dunes have been cemented into a soft sandstone. These formations contain importants fossils. To the west the expanse of the Cape Flats is limited by rising ground that slopes up to the steep cliffs of the Cape Peninsula mountain chain. In the east the land rises gradually towards the rugged cliffs of the Hottentonts Holland mountains and other elevated regions of the Boland region. The Cape Flats has a Mediterranean climate, with dry summers and cool, damp winters. Flooding can be a problem, especially in July and August.

The Cape Flats region has undergone major changes in past half century. The area was practically uninhabited in 1950, with just a single road across the Cape Flats from Cape Town to Strand. The narrow road ran between walls of alien rooikrans bushes and one could travel for miles without seeing any signs of habitation other than a few fences and a handful of farmhouses. The area was mostly used by the army for military exercises. During the apartheid era, large housing projects were built, mostly as part of forced removals implemented as part of the Group Areas Act. Today, the Cape Flats is home to a remarkable culutural history and its religious communities include congregations of the Dutch Reformed Church, Rastafarian communities, people who engage in traditional Xhosa practises, syncretic Xhosa Christian churches, evangelical Christian churches, and Southern Africa’s largest Muslim community.

The Cape Flats is seen by some as the birthplace of Cape Town’s soul and art. Music and entrepreneurship abound in the area and a visit to the Cape Flats is one of the most revealing and enriching things you can do whilst in Cape Town.

Suburbs in the Cape Flats include:

Athlone is situated to the east of the Cape Town city centre, south of the N2 highway, on the Cape Flats. It lies about 9 km west of the Cape Town Inernational Airport. Athlone is mainly residential, but also has busy industrial and commercial zones, especially along the Klipfontein Road. It is served by the Athlone railway station. Some of the areas within Athlone include Manenberg, Gatesville, Rylands, Belgravia Estate, Bridgetown, Crawford, Kewtown, Silverton and Hazendal… read more

Khayelitsha is located on the Cape Flats in the Western cape, 30km southeast of the Cape Town city centre, just off the N2. Khayelitsha is a Xhosa word for ‘Our New Home’. It is known for its entrepreneurial spirit and social development projects. The people of Khayelitsha are friendly and inviting and the area is rich in culture and diversity. Tourism is a big drawing card, and gives visitors, some insight into the lives of those who live here… read more

Mitchells Plain
Mitchells Plain is located on the Cape Flats in the Western Cape, about 32km from the city of Cape Town. The suburb is situated between Muizenberg and Khayelitsha. Mitchells Plain is home to the Liberty Promenade, one of the biggest shopping centres in Cape Town. It has over 80 schools, including the Medowridge Primary School, Aloe, Lentegeur, Beacon Hill, Oval North, Cedar, Glendale, Rocklands, Spine Road, Mondale, Portland, Princeton, Woodlands, Tafelsig, Westridge and Seaview Primary… read more