Top 10 Biggest Townships in South Africa (2024)

The term Township in South Africa refers to an urban area that was historically designated for non-white inhabitants during the apartheid era. Today, these places are still referred to as underdeveloped segregated urban areas characterized by limited infrastructure, housing, and basic services. However, post-apartheid development policies have resulted in the construction of townships with government housing.

The Biggest Townships in South Africa include Soweto, Thembisa, Katlehong, Umlazi, Soshanguve, Khayelitsha, Mamelodi, Mitchells Plain, Ibhayi, and Sebokeng. South Africa has extensive informal settlements on the outskirts of urban areas. World Bank reports that half of the urban population in South Africa lives in Townships and informal settlements which include 38% of working-class citizens and 60% of unemployed people. 

Top 10 Biggest Townships in South Africa

1. Soweto

Soweto, short for “South Western Townships,” is a famous urban area in Johannesburg. Established during the apartheid era, it was a designated residential area for black South Africans. Well, it is one of the most prominent and biggest townships in South Africa, covering an area of 200.03 square kilometres and home to over two million people.

Soweto gained global attention due to its role in anti-apartheid struggles, including the 1976 Soweto Uprising. It is a diverse and vibrant community that features a mix of informal settlements and more developed neighborhoods, with improved infrastructure and amenities over the years.

2. Thembisa

Tembisa is a major township located to the north of Johannesburg, covering an area of 42.80 square kilometres and home to over 400,000 people. The name “Tembisa” is derived from the Zulu word for “promise”, and it is a place that was established in the 1950s, becoming a home for black residents during the apartheid era.

It must be noted that this township has evolved into a diverse and densely populated community, famous for its vibrant culture and a strong sense of community spirit. Just like other prominent townships in the country, Tembisa is also bedeviled with issues like unemployment and limited resources. However, there are efforts to improve infrastructure and living conditions. Finally, Tembisa is home to various landmarks, including the Winnie Mandela Community Centre.

3. Katlehong

Katlehong is another township in South Africa that covers an area of 55.36 square kilometres and has a population in excess of 407,000 too. This vibrant township is located in the Ekurhuleni Metropolitan Municipality of Gauteng, and was also established during the apartheid era.

Today, Katlehong represents a diverse community with a rich culture and a strong sense of community. In spite of the available socio-economic challenges, the township can still boast of a mixture of traditional and modern elements, with bustling markets, local eateries, and a strong connection to South African history. 

4. Umlazi

Umlazi covers an area of 47.46 square kilometres alongside a population of around 410, 000 people. Hence, Umlazi is one of the biggest townships in South Africa, and is located in the southern part of Durban. Also established during the apartheid era to house black residents, this place is known for its rich cultural heritage, vibrant community life, and diverse traditions.

Despite facing challenges like unemployment and poverty, the people of Umlazi are committed to community development projects. Today, its history and ongoing efforts reflect the complexities of South Africa’s social and economic landscape, making it a place of historical significance and cultural significance. Umlazi has 26 sections and has several informal settlements with government-built homes.

5. Soshanguve

Soshanguve covers an area of 126.77 square kilometres and is also home to thousands of people in South Africa. Here is another prominent township situated in the northern part of Pretoria. Originally established during apartheid for black residents, it has since grown into a diverse community.

Soshanguve is known for its diverse informal settlements and formal housing, reflecting both economic challenges and urban development. The township has various amenities, including schools, clinics, and shopping centers, contributing to its self-sufficiency. It is also facing issues like unemployment and crime (just like some other townships in the country). However, there are community initiatives and cultural activities meant to make things better than they used to be.

6. Khayelitsha

Khayelitsha is not as reputable as the likes of Soweto yet but is still one of the largest in its league. This fast-growing township covers an area of 38.71 square kilometres and has a population of about 400,000 people. Located on the outskirts of Cape Town, it has a reputation for being one of the country’s largest and most densely populated townships. Established during apartheid, Khayelitsha was intended to house black residents.

Also, its growth has been marked by issues such as inadequate housing, limited resources, and high unemployment rates. Nevertheless, it should be noted that there have been various grassroots efforts, cultural events, and initiatives aimed at improving living conditions in the township.

Khayelitsha also has a mix of informal settlements and more formalized housing. Organizations and individuals within Khayelitsha continue to work towards better education, healthcare, and economic opportunities.

7. Mamelodi

Mamelodi, located east of Pretoria, is yet another prominent township in South Africa steeped in history and resilience. Established during apartheid, it was meant to accommodate black residents who were forcibly removed from their homes. Despite facing challenges like unemployment, inadequate infrastructure, and limited access to essential services, Mamelodi’s community has shown remarkable strength and unity.

Mamelodi covers an area of 45.19 square kilometres and is home to over 330,000 people. It is known for its vibrant culture, seen in its music, arts, and sports activities, and can also boast of educational institutions and healthcare facilities that serve its population.

Finally, it seems certain residents of this area are committed to forging ahead and leaving the nasty past behind, via their hard work of bringing up initiatives and community-driven projects to improve their quality of life. It is a good thing that these folks are bent on shaping their future while honoring their past.

8. Mitchells Plain

Mitchells Plain, situated on the outskirts of Cape Town, with a dynamic history and diverse community. Established during apartheid as a designated area for black residents, it covers a size of 43.76 square kilometres. With a population that is over 300,000, Mitchells Plain has evolved into a vibrant urban area.

As known of various other townships in the country, it has its own issues, such as crime, unemployment, and inadequate infrastructure. However, it appears the people of Mitchells Plain have decided to take destiny into their own hands and make things work as well as possible. One of the things that should be highlighted about Mitchells Plain is its strong cultural identity, with various neighborhoods fostering a sense of belonging and shared heritage.

So, while many folks there are still living in hardships, some residents have initiated community projects, educational initiatives, and sports programs to uplift the area. So, the area is producing successful folks who are doing well for themselves on different platforms and are even committed to collective empowerment.

9. Ibhayi

Ibhayi is one of the biggest townships in South Africa that covers an area of 36.06 square kilometres, with a population that is in excess of 220,700. Also known as Port Elizabeth, this coastal city is in the Eastern Cape and is renowned for its diverse history. Indeed, it played a significant role during colonial times and later emerged as a key industrial and cultural hub.

Here, you will find stunning beaches, historical landmarks, and a blend of architectural styles reflecting its past. Ibhayi has witnessed urban development, social change, and ongoing efforts to bridge historical divides. There are folks doing all it takes to address issues such as unemployment and inequality.

Even the residents are giving expression to their potential on different levels, taking advantage of different platforms like cultural events, art, and sports. Indeed, the people are committed to creating a bright future by embracing their heritage while pursuing progress.

10. Sebokeng

Finally, Sebokeng is another massive township in South Africa that can’t be ignored. It covers an area of 46.45 square kilometres and is located in the Gauteng province. The township was also established during apartheid as a settlement for black residents and has also evolved into a dynamic community facing socio-economic struggles.

Unemployment, inadequate infrastructure, and limited access to basic services are common issues. Sebokeng’s history is intertwined with political activism and resistance, reflecting the broader struggle for equality in the entire country.

While the area also has its issues (which are currently a common feature in South African townships), it should be noted that vis collaboration and determination, residents of the township continue to work towards improving living conditions, fostering education, and creating opportunities for their community.



Highlighted above are the biggest townships in South Africa currently. It should be noted that since the end of apartheid, efforts have been made to improve living conditions and provide equal opportunities for township residents. There are several townships scattered across South Africa. Asides from the biggest townships discussed in this piece, there are several other big townships in South Africa which include Ivory Park, Alexandra, and Manguang amongst others.

Amidst their challenges, they continue to evolve and are now known as places where individuals and organizations strive to improve living conditions, enhance education, and provide opportunities for the youth. The narrative of these South African townships showcases the strength of unity and the potential for positive change within historically marginalized communities.