Cape Town's million plus black township of Khayelitsha: Terrae incognitae and the geographies and cartographies of silence

Stanley D. Brunn, Matthew W. Wilson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

34 Scopus citations


The earth's inhabited areas are uneven in knowledge about peoples, landscapes and activities. The unevenness is attributed to the collection and dissemination of place-based knowledge by colonial powers, countries with long traditions of print knowledge, including the production of maps, and also the production of electronic information. This paper explores the concepts of terrae incognitae and the geographies and cartographies of silence about Khayelitsha, a township outside Cape Town that has more than a million residents. It examines geographical knowledge using Google hyperlinks and Scholar, placemarks (DigiPlaces) and Street View as well as information from travel sources. Reasons for the lacunae are discussed as well as working strategies to increase our awareness about the township's human and environmental conditions.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)284-294
Number of pages11
JournalHabitat International
StatePublished - Jul 2013

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Considering all the above reasons for not studying the township are three counter points. First, there are scholars, youthful in many fields who do not shirk from study “the unknown.” This point was made by Wright (1947) . That is, they enjoy venturing into places where others have some trepidation and accept the challenges to “remove the narrative and cartographic silences,” even if imposed by power and the state ( Harley, 1988 ). Second, there are organizations and groups who welcome pioneering ventures on topics we know little about or where information is incomplete and inaccurate. These may be family foundations and NGOs who seek to correct legacies of injustice and environmental destruction. One example is the collaborative interdisciplinary research project funded by Stellenbosch University, South Africa's Netherlands Programme on Alternatives in Development (SANPID), and the University of Western Cape ( Liebowitz et al., 2013 ). It brought social work and psychology faculty and students from both universities to share their experiences and worldviews. Third, there are professional and popular journal editors and publishers, including in the trade and tourist markets, who supportive creative community empowerment. Their gatekeeping roles include going beyond “the familiar” to “fill in the silences.”


  • Apartheid's nameless landscapes
  • Khayelitsha
  • Named and un-named township geographies
  • Silent cartographies and geographies
  • Unmapped geographies

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Urban Studies


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