Gugulethu, or “Gugs” as it is commonly known, is an area about 15km outside of the city centre of Cape Town. It was first established as a settlement for African migrant workers by the Cape Town City Council in 1958. The name “Gugulethu” is an abbreviation of “Igugu Lethu,” which means “our pride” in Xhosa and was initially assigned by the Apartheid government two or three years after settlement began. Before this, it was referred to as Nyanga-West. Despite the poor housing conditions available in Gugulethu, by 1963 the population had grown to over 27,000 inhabitants.

Residents in Gugs included African families who were forcibly removed from many different parts of the City of Cape Town under the Group Areas Act. Families that were resettled came from Windemere (approx 753 families), Wittbome, Bo-Kaap, Retreat; District Six and Simonstown. Once they arrived in Gugulethu, the settlement was divided up into sections which were designed so that people that had been removed from the same areas were grouped together. As Langa become more and more crowded, some of its residents moved to Gugulethu. Migrant workers who came to Cape Town seeking work also often settled here in labour hostels where African men who were forced to share single rooms between up to three men, with no housing provided for their families. Despite difficult living conditions in Gugulethu, resident Jeff Mamputha reflects fondly on the diversity of cultures that the communities who were moved to Gugulethu brought with them. This includes rugby from Kensington, cricket from District Six and ballroom dancing from Retreat.

Many of the streets in Gugulethu were labelled on a grid using “NY’ and a number system. Many people are of the view that “NY” is an abbreviation of an apartheid reference; “Native Yard”. This history has led to pressure to change the name of many street names. Authorities have responded by renaming many roads including changing NY1 to Steve Biko Drive, as well as re-naming roads after Albert Luthuli, Amy Biehl, Ray Alexander, and the Gugulethu Seven. Resident Jeff Mamputha believes that the “NY” used in the street naming system emerged as a way of differentiating the streets of Gugulethu (formerly Nyanga-West) from the original settlement of Nyanga (abbreviated to NY) in the east.

Crime is still a genuine problem for Gugulethu’s residents. South African Institute of Race Relations data shows that between 2005 and 2010 over 700 people were murdered in Gugulethu. Given that Gugs only covers about 6.5km squared of land, this murder rate of one murder ever two-and-a-half days shows that inequality and violence is still very much part of township life in the new South Africa.

In recent years, Gugulethu has seen various developments including a boom in tourism and a new mall. Despite a long history, with some violent moments, in 2018 Gugulethu residents and businesses celebrated 60 years since its founding. The slogan of the celebration was “Reclaiming Our Pride” and included a series of community events such as music concerts, a fashion show and a project to collect the life histories of residents from Gugulethu.

Some notable Gugulethu residents include

Author, Sindiwe Magona, lived on NY74 after her family was moved from Retreat, later studied at Columbia University and worked for the United Nations. Gugulethu has also been home to many successful musicians including saxophonists Winston Mankunku Ngosi, McCoy Mrubata and Don Tshomela, a jazz artist who lived in NY 65.

Mzoli’s Tshisanyama started out as a butcher’s shop in 2003 operating out of a garage. Founder Mzoli Ngcawuzele’s family moved to Gugs from Bo-Kaap and Mzoli’s is now a major attraction for both local Capetonians and international visitors alike, especially on a Sunday.

Notable Events

In 1975, three of Gugs’ main high schools; ID Mkize, Fazeka and Cava organised a march against the implementation of Afrikaans as a compulsory teaching language. They marched in solidarity with high school students in Soweto, but also for their own education. On 3 March 1986, Mandla Mxinwa, Jabulani Miya, Themba Molefi, Christopher Piet, Zola Swelani, Zabonkwe Konile and Zandisile Mjobo (who came to be known as the Gugulethu Seven) were shot dead by police on the corner of NY1 (Steve Biko Drive) and NY111. They were shot in the head after being tricked by undercover Apartheid police into thinking that they were being recruited into the ANC’s armed wing, Umkonto we Sizwe. The men were aged between 17 and 23.

American graduate-student, Amy Biehl, was killed in an instance of mob violence in Gugulethu while on exchange from Stanford University with UWC’s Community Law Centre on 25 August 1993. The men convicted of her murder were pardoned by the TRC, and the Biehl family helped to establish a Foundation in her honour, now the Amy Foundation, which still operates in Cape Town.

The girls’ and boys’ football teams of Lwazi Primary were featured in the Oscar-winning moving “Invictus.” Directed by Clint Eastwood and starring Matt Damon (as Francois Pienaar) and Morgan Freedman (as Nelson Mandela), the Lwazi teams were chosen because they had both won nearly every trophy in the Western Cape in their respective leagues. The players, along with their coach and Maths teacher, Xolile Madikane, are a source of pride in the Gugulethu community and shooting took place on the school grounds.

Image from Fanie Jason in Weekend Argus (Sunday Edition) 28 March 2010.

Caption: Players from Lwazi’s various girls’ teams practice on the school’s sport field, with Gugulethu’s Barcelona informal settlement in the background.



UK Prime Minister, Theresa May, also visited Gugulethu on the opening day of her 2018 Africa trade trip. The Prime Minister visited ID Mkize Secondary School and was videoed dancing and singing with school learners.


Newspaper Articles

  • Dano, Zodidi (2018) “Gugulethu Turns 60”. Cape Argus. 18 December.
  • Unknown (2010) “City kids have the right stuff” Weekend Argus. Sunday 28 March 2010.