From township to town : Why plans for Cape Town’s Metro South East could improve city life for millions | FUTURE CAPE TOWN

“South African cities can no longer afford a housing project on the edge, bus routes without appropriate densities, shopping centres only accessible to car owners”CAPE TOWN

South African cities can no longer afford isolated and disengaged interventions. How will the investments in the Metro South East  build a greater town to township link and improve city life for millions in Cape Town.





Read Part 1 : Why the Voortrekker Road Corridor will play a major role in the future of Cape Town

The most important outcome of the National Treasury’s Urban Network Strategy (UNS), a package of performance-based planning and infrastructure grants to support the eight cities of South Africa to intervene in the spatial structure, is a town to township link.

This link will be established through investments in public transport, which was kick started in all reality by FIFA World Cup in 2010. Over the past ten years, across South African cities have seen the introduction of high quality bus services, roads improvements, public space improvements, and other city building infrastructure.

A second kickstarter was the Neighborhood Development Partnership Grant (NDPG), which was an outcome of President Thabo Mbeki’s response to the ‘second economy’ of most township locations. Through the NDPG, significant investments in townships were achieved.

However, many of these interventions were only ‘place-based’, and did not take into account the spatial form of cities. As a result, these interventions were not as effective as they could have been.

This is where the new UNS of Treasury seeks to intervene, and it does so through the old-school carrot and stick approach. The carrot is the various grants available to cities, and the stick the is performance criteria that cities need to comply with. It seeks to achieve more integrated cities (often a sideline value and outcome of policy development in South Africa), and provides the financial means to achieve this.

Treasury wants to see how cities are making key investments to create links between the town centre, traditionally advantaged through apartheid planning to be the centre of economic activity, and the dense township, where the majority of growth is taking place albeit with few economic and job opportunities. This is a work of equitable distribution of resources.

National Treasury : Urban Networks Stategy Diagram

National Treasury : Urban Networks Stategy Diagram

In Cape Town, the Voortrekker Road corridor aims to strengthen the economic base of the city, and the Metro South East (MSE) corridor will create the linkage to the townships of Phillippi, Gugulethu and Khayelitsha. As with the Voortrekker Road corridor, well endowed with road and rail transport infrastructure, the MSE corridor is also transit-oriented development (TOD). Over the following three parts – transport, and housing, and a concluding section of reflections – we unpack what this means for the South East of Cape Town.


Transport and housing in appropriate locations are the main outcomes of the MSE Corridor, as explained by the City’s latest 2016/17 Built Environment Performance Plan, a document which guides infrastructure expenditure of capital grants including the Urban Settlements Development Grant (USDG) and the Integrated Cities Development Grant (ICDG).

The rail corridor is the backbone of the MSE corridor. This was supplemented by the rolling out of the MyCiti bus network in the metropolitan Southeast, in addition to the express service as reported in 2014. According to the City’s BEPP, the following transportation projects and investments include: The N2 Express MyCiti (CCT), the Central Line Modernisation Programme (PRASA and Metrorail), Phase 2a MyCiti (CCT), the redevelopment of the Nolungile Public Transportation Interchange, Khayelitsha CBD, and the Station Deck Precinct Development.

Transformed train station plans for the Metro South East

Transformed train station plans for the Metro South East

Luyanda Mpahlwa’s architecture firm DesignSpaceAfrica was appointed by PRASA to lead the redesign of at least five stations namely Nolungile, Stock Road, Bonteheuwel, Lentegeur and Mandalay Stations. The design imagines a “seamless intermodal interchange that is comfortable and convenient for the public [in which] strengthened street to street connections are key to the project’s success.”

MSE CorridorHousing

More than half of the city’s most deprived neighborhoods are located in this growth corridor. The corridor is mostly residential in character, with a mix of formal government housing projects and informal settlements and backyarder shacks. Some of the settlements are extremely dense, for example, Zondi and Kosovo has 538 and 442 people per hectare respectively, compared to the city’s average of 15 – 20 dwelling units per hectare.

Johnny Miller’s recent drone footage of South African cities’ apartheid legacy of spatial segregation captured the world’s attention, and was recently featured on The Guardian Cities website. These images reminds us how painfully separate our lives are in South African cities, both in established neighborhoods and also newly built neighborhoods. There is a real need to find solutions to overcome these physical and psychological barriers to access, and well planned interventions can help achieve this.

Phola Park . Credit : Johnny Miller

Phola Park . Credit : Johnny Miller

Vukuzenzele Sweethome Farms. Credit : Johnny Miller

Vukuzenzele Sweethome Farms. Credit : Johnny Miller

One of the first deliverables in the MSE Corridor is the ‘Southern Corridor Sustainable Neighborhoods Project’. You can read the plan on Treasury’s website. More than 50,000 housing opportunities are planned in this area, which includes some of the largest informal settlements in the city, namely BM Section (4,230 households), Sweet Home Farms (3,750), Monwood (2,700) and Penhill (10,000). The average density of these settlements are 100 dwelling units per acre, and the city deems 60 du/ha to be a manageable density to install services, housing and open space. See the below map and schedule of housing projects to be completed over the next few years.

Southern corridor housing scheduleSouthern corridor housing map 

This mammoth task is being tackled by the City in partnership with service providers and NGOs. Interesting partnerships are emerging. For example, Bergstan Engineers, the service providers appointed to lead the infrastructure provision in Sweet Home Farms, have entered into a partnership with Ubuhle Bakha Ubuhle (UBU, meaning ‘Beauty Builds Beauty’). In the UBU-Berstan partnership, the community is centrally involved in the UBU Process House, a project finalist at the 2014 Better Living Design Challenge which showcases how the housing subsidy can be used to build new technology higher density housing units. This is essential if the city will achieve housing solutions for population density of 60 – 100 du/ha.


UBU Process House

Another more established partnership is between the City and Violence Prevention through Urban Upgrading (VPUU). VPUU has prepared a masterplan for the settlement upgrading at Lotus Park after years of negotiation with PRASA, who owned a large plot of land. In 2014, strategies for densification was explored in the Density Syndicate, a project coordinated by African Centre for Cities (ACC) and Netherlands-based International New Town Institute (INTI) which brought together local and Dutch architects, urban designers, land experts, engineers, NGOs and communities. The results of the workshops were exhibited at the City Desired Exhibition in Town Hall. The work continues to show that an alternative to densification is needed if settlements will be upgraded with minor displacement of people.

Density Syndicate, Lotus PArk

Lotus Park. Credit : Density Syndicate


South African cities can no longer afford isolated and disengaged interventions; a housing project on the edge, bus routes without appropriate densities, shopping centres only accessible to car owning commuters. We need to see the making of urban networks which can distribute the benefits of urban agglomeration to all citizens. The UNS plays an important role in addressing these issues in real terms, and also informing a new municipal practice of built environment performance.

This article outlined the major plans for the MSE Corridor, which is anchored on transport and housing investments. The focus is understandably on service delivery and improved quality of life, reliable public transport, and responsive housing solutions for rapidly growing neighborhoods. However, the measures that would be used to give meaning to the aims of integration, improved quality of life, and reliable and efficient transport, are not yet in place.

Klipfontein Corridor Project. Credit: Lucien le Grange, with Piet Louw, Dave Dewar and Nisa Mammon

Klipfontein Corridor Project. Credit: Lucien le Grange, with Piet Louw, Dave Dewar and Nisa Mammon

Corridors are not new in Cape Town, and in this part of the city, the Klipfontein corridor was initiated in 2003 with similar grand ambitions of compacting and integrating the city. The dense corridors of Bogota and Curitiba served as inspiration for the project team, led by NM Associates and others. In a research report, the project leaders suggested that “it is imperative that the institutional capacity, political will and financial ability are in place to support public and private investment in city restructuring through integrated public transport and land use planning and design. At the same time commitment to a long-term city vision that is supported by the public at large has to drive these institutional imperatives.”

Has sufficient institutional capacity been created to ensure the long term benefits of corridor initiatives? In many other parts of the city, institutional capacity has been sanctioned by the City Council such as Cape Town Partnership in the city centre, Greater Tygerberg Partnership in Bellville, and so on. Khayelitsha Development Forum exists, and has performed an essential role over the years, but remains a voluntary organisation kept living with dwindling donor funding.

What would institutional capacity in this part of the city comprise? How will business centres of Khayelitsha and Mitchell’s Plein, initial benefactors of the Neighborhood Partnership Development Grant and today still Mayoral Urban Renewal Programme zones, be strengthened to support neighborhood growth? Or in the words of a Khayelitsha Play the City participant, “I’ve sensed that some people wonder whether the momentum can be maintained and, most importantly, the often unsaid questions of “what then, where does it take us?”.

The MSE Corridor, while a significantly large zone,  shows how residential and transport led regeneration of very neglected neighborhoods can be partnership-based and inclusive. The town to township linkage can be established through building urban networks, as Treasury policy seems to indicate. This important development in urban policy seeks to remedy the isolated interventions we have seen over the past ten years. How successful this approach is in achieving spatial transformation, will only be known in some decades. For now, it is an important leap towards the future sustainability of cities, and the equitable opportunities to share in the benefits of city life.

Read more about the planning for a future Cape Town:


  1.  MyCITI BRT Roll out: City of Cape Town
  2. Urban Networks Diagram: National Treasury
  3. Image: Train Station. Accessed at DesignSpaceAfrica
  4. Metro South East Corridor. Credit: Built Environment Performance Plan 2016/17, City of Cape Town
  5. Images: Vukenzenzele and Phola Park. Accessed at Johnny Miller
  6. Graphs: Southern Corridor Housing Plans. Credit: City of Cape Town
  7. Image: Built Environment Performance Plan 2016/17, City of Cape Town
  8. Image: UBU House. Credit : UBU-Berstan
  9. Image: Lotus Park. The Density Syndicate : African Centre for Cities and the International New Town Institute
  10. Image: Klipfontein Corridor Project. Credit: Lucien le Grange, with Piet Louw, Dave Dewar and Nisa Mammon. Accessed  at Lucien Le Grange architects
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Walter Fieuw is a Chevening scholar completing a MSc City Planning and Real Estate Development degree at the University of Glasgow in 2015/16. In Glasgow, he is working as a Researcher at a planning consultancy Bilfinger GVA. Previously, following a short lived career in corporate finance in London, he worked as Fund Manager with the South African Alliance of Shack/ Slum Dwellers International and Programme Manager at the Greater Tygerberg Partnership in Cape Town. He is optimistic about South African cities, provided that we get the basics right and include people’s lived experiences and knowledge as building blocks.