Welcome to our Township

The suburb was built 50 years ago in the apartheid days. It was designed to move the people under the group areas act from places like Korsten and Neave Township.

The houses were designed as semidetached units comprising four rooms with an outside toilet per family. The four rooms consisted of two bedrooms, one lounge and a kitchen.

Because so many people had to be moved, each unit was divided to cater for two families.

In other words a block that was supposed to accommodate only two families now had to accommodate four families with only two outside toilets.

The suburb (Old Helenvale) was initially built to accommodate about 6000 people, the latest survey showed that almost 32000 people are living in the 38 streets.

From 1960 onwards the area became renowned for gangsterism and fighting. It soon got the name of Katanga derived from the DRC where there was a climate of extremist fighting. It was almost as if the same killings and fighting in the DRC’s Katanga happened in the local Katanga.


The Problem

Helenvale is characterised by poverty, gangsterism and other socio-political complexities, found in varying degrees in other South African communities. A coloured township, Helenvale is located approximately 30 minutes’ drive from the Nelson Mandela Bay Metropole (NMBM) city centre. It is also a historic site of displacement, with many of its residents having been forcibly removed from other areas in the NMBM. Developed to accommodate 6000 people, the area now provides tenancy for 20 000 – 69% of which are below the age of 35 – and is critically underdeveloped. Only 12% of the population have completed general education (grade 9 or higher) and 4% have no schooling at all;29.9% of households earn less than R800 a month (significantly less than the national average income of R8 800);46% of inhabitants claim to have no income; and 49% are unemployed (significantly more than the national average of 37%) (StatsSA 2011).

Not much has changed since the onset of democracy, and Helenvale has remained socioeconomically marginalised. As a coloured area in a metro dominated by black-majority areas, In Helenvale residents mainly elect councillors not from the ruling party, consequently antagonising the metro and neighbouring communities. Aside from the historical displacement and the fierce socio-economic constraints gripping the area, media representation/ reportage on Helenvale reinforces and reproduces the existing high degree of political antagonism. Further, in 2013 the rate of crime was six times the national rate, and the township remains the poorest within the NMBM. Through the regional and tabloid press of Die Burger and Die Son, the area receives a great deal of attention with coverage on shootings, gang activities and public protests. As a result, representations of Helenvale in the mainstream news paint a very bleak picture.


  • Helenvale/Katanga gangwatch – Facebook; built 50 years ago, …from 1960s known for gangsterism and fighting, hence the name Katanga, derived from DRC, where there was a climate of extreme fighting

  • http://wikimapia.org/6623178/Katanga-Helenvale: Katanga (Helenvale) (Port Elizabeth), named after Katanga in DRC

  • www.heraldlive.co.za: ..a community gripped with such intense fear that they forsake their beds and opt for the hard floor because bullets flying through the walls of their homes are a norm…. One child shot twice while sleeping in her bed….We are prisoners in our own homes; “Bullets are flying all the time.”

  • www.heraldlive.co.za: gang storms school in Helenvale (15 April, 2015)

  • www.heraldlive.co.za: Helenvale residents tell of daily hell …families in Leith Street have been sleeping on their floors since gang violence ... (21 December 2015)….

  • www.sabc.co.za/news: Helenvale and Gelvandale reknown for their high levels of violent crime since the 1960s (13 June 2015); There are currently 17 different gangs operating in the northern areas of which 8 have ties in operations in Helenvale..

  • www.iol.co.za: “Rambo of Port Elizabeth gunned down”

  • http://mype.co.za: 2 killed in Helenvale, …. brings the number of people shot dead in Helenvale this week to 3

  • www.thenewage.co.za: Mayor Jordaan Promises to tackle crime… in Helenvale (20 January 2016); http://ewn.co.za: Jordaan emotional at community meeting in crime-laden Helenvale (11 May 2016)