Examine Cape Town, where apartheid’s legacies and burgeoning inequalities have led to acute housing challenges and innovative approaches in urban architecture and design.
Live and study in Cape Town, South Africa’s “mother city” and a World Design capital with dramatic housing and urban design contrasts.
You will spend most of the program in Cape Town, living in a township called Langa, one of the oldest in the country, and the community of Bo Kaap. The SIT classrooms and office are located in the southern suburb of Rondebosch, in close proximity to the University of Cape Town. Shelter and its challenges have long been defining characteristics of Cape Town, and the program takes advantage of the multiple resources the city offers.
Study geographies of exclusion and the legacies of apartheid through urban planning.
Settlements in apartheid South Africa were populated not only according to race but also ethnicity. This was a deliberate policy by the state to control South Africans using the “divide and rule” tactic. Attempts have been made to build mixed income houses, but for various reasons explored on the program, these schemes remain largely vacant. Recent waves of gentrification challenge close-knit connections and cultural ties, threatening to price long-term residents out of their homes and the city center. Meanwhile, enclaves of stunning architectural showpieces cling to the sides of Table Mountain and overlook the sea, sheltering their predominantly white residents in luxury behind an expansive security apparatus.
Develop a collaborative project proposal focused on a practical aspect of shelter and urban design.
Working with community members, urban planners, and architectural practitioners, you and your fellow students will form small groups of multi-disciplinary teams to collaborate on a design project focused on an aspect of shelter. The collaborative project—the topic of which will emerge from classes, discussions, and educational excursions—will be based in Cape Town. Recent students focused on two major urban design proposals highlighting the broad politics of poverty in the Central City Improvement District and the dire struggle for dignified housing in a South African township.
Engage with Capetonians who are passionate about design and its role in creating livable, just cities.
Examine the “right to the city” through the lenses of identity, access, belonging, and urban space.
Learn from the everyday experiences of Cape Town’s residents through contrasting homestays in a township and the city center.
Critical Global Issue of Study
Development | Economy | Inequality
None. Students with interests in architecture, design, engineering, geography, and development are particularly encouraged to apply.
Key Topics of Study
Key Topics of Study
- Geographies of exclusion and the legacies of apartheid through urban planning
- The “right to the city”—an examination of identity, access, belonging, and urban space
- The history and legacies of Cape Town’s racialized spaces
- Current dynamics that contribute to Cape Town’s role as a site of sobering urban challenges
- Ways in which communities of architects, designers, and residents are working together to create promising design solutions
The following syllabi are representative of this program. Because courses develop and change over time to take advantage of dynamic learning opportunities, actual course content will vary from term to term. The syllabi can be useful for students, faculty, and study abroad offices in assessing credit transfer. Read more about credit transfer.
- Shelter – syllabus
- (ILAB3020 / 4 credits / 60 hours)
- An interdisciplinary course on urban developments in Cape Town, with an opportunity to engage in a hands-on, collaborative design project in the city. The course focuses on the history and legacies of Cape Town’s racialized spaces, the current dynamics that contribute to its role as a site of sobering urban challenges, and the ways in which communities of architects, designers, and residents are working together to create promising design solutions.
Please note that in order to take advantage of dynamic learning opportunities, program excursions may occasionally vary.
By the mid-20th century, the population of Cape Town was approximately half a million. Today there are more than 3.7 million residents, many of whom live in informal housing. During much of the second half of the 20th century, South Africa was subjected to the violence and imposed spatial reorganizations associated with apartheid. Communities were divided by race and ethnicity, involving massive dislocations of people. With apartheid’s end in 1994, South Africa remained a country divided, and the shack-based settlements of its cities expanded to contain job seekers and other migrants leaving rural areas for perceived economic opportunities, as seen in the burgeoning township of Khayelitsha on the Cape Flats. In other parts of the city, including Bo Kaap, recent waves of gentrification challenge close-knit connections and cultural ties, threatening to price long-term residents out of their homes and the city center. Elsewhere, enclaves of stunning architectural showpieces overlook the sea, sheltering predominantly white residents in luxury behind an expansive security apparatus.
Through monuments, new institutions, and a focus on urban design and architectural innovation, Cape Town has asserted itself as a cultural and artistic center of South Africa commonly known as the “Mother City” of the nation. Throughout the program, you will have day-long excursions to museums, historical sites, self-help schemes, and community organizations in and around Cape Town. You may also undertake brief fieldwork investigations with local NGOs.
Stellenbosch, in the Western Cape Province about 50 kilometers from Cape Town, is home to Stellenbosch University, where you will attend classes. From here, you will also visit nearby sites, including the town of Paarl, home to the Afrikaans Language Monument. On an excursion to the Solms Delta Wine Estate you will learn about the social history of the farm and housing programs to support farm workers and their families. This is contrasted with surrounding areas in the wine-growing region where itinerant farm workers live informally—with limited access to basic infrastructure—despite the surrounding wealth of the region.
Faculty and Staff
Faculty and Staff
Stewart Chirova, MS and MPS, Academic Director
A Zimbabwe national, Stewart received a BS in agriculture from the University of Zimbabwe, an MS and MPS in horticulture and environmental management from Cornell University, and a graduate diploma in business administration at De Mont Fort University in the UK. Stewart served as academic director of SIT’s program in Botswana from 2001 through 2010, and has directed this program since 2010. In addition to his role as academic director, from 2007 to 2009, he was a member and later chair of the Program Affairs Committee on the SIT Study Abroad Governance Council.
He has worked as a research associate at the University of Zimbabwe and at Cornell University. His research efforts were focused on sustainable agriculture, integrated pest management, watershed management, and geographic information systems. He has also taught courses for the Ministry of Education in Zimbabwe and served as a coordinator in the International Students and Scholars program office at Cornell University.
Tabisa Dyonase, Program Assistant
Tabisa obtained a BA in psychology, education, and Xhosa from the University of Port Elizabeth, a postgraduate diploma in communication and computing from London Centre College for Business Studies, and a postgraduate degree in public relations management from the University of South Africa. She has been with SIT since 2007, helping students adapt to the program by addressing day-to-day concerns, facilitating communication between the students and in-country staff, and assisting with administrative aspects of the program. She is also in charge of homestay coordination.
Lecturers for this program typically include:
Koni Benson, PhD
Koni is a radical educator and historian at the University of Cape Town who focuses on African history, gender histories, popular political education, and collaborative knowledge production.
Ismail Farouk, PhD Candidate
Ismail is an artist and PhD candidate based at the department of African Studies at the University of Cape Town. His work broadly deals with historical injustice, food oppression and the city, working through a radical black feminist intellectual, and aesthetic archive.
Andy is a professional architect with more than 24 years of experience in the design and construction of natural buildings. With a passion for the environment, he established his own practice in 1998, called Eco Design – Architects & Consultants. The practice has a strong emphasis on using local natural materials—especially straw bales, earth building, and masonry dome; user participation; and on-site training. His clients have included Namaqua National Parks, Mondi Forests, WESSA, Conservation International, International Fauna and Flora, Eskom, National Water Saving Campaign, South African Heritage Resource Agency, Hantam Municipality, City of Cape Town, and many individual private clients, businesses, and development planning teams. Andy has written articles and published papers, photographs, illustrated books, and pamphlets.
Aditya works as an independent practitioner on informal settlements, planning, and development issues. Previously, he was manager for urban sustainability at ICLEI Africa Secretariat and deputy director for the Community Organization Resource Centre, affiliated with Shack/Slum Dwellers International working with informal settlement and backyarder dwellers in South Africa. He has been involved with post-war reconstruction of Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon, post-earthquake disaster housing reconstruction in India, and affordable and social housing and large urban development projects in Los Angeles and Boston.
Steven is a professor in the Department of Sociology and Social Anthropology at the University of Stellenbosch. He has published on the politics of land, development and identity in Zimbabwe and South Africa, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, urban studies, and most recently on citizenship and governance. His 2008 book From Revolution to Rights in South Africa: Social Movements and Popular Politics focuses on globally connected social movements, NGOs, and CBOs involved in democratic struggles over access to AIDS treatment, land, and housing. He edited Limits to Liberation after Apartheid: Citizenship, Governance and Culture. He also edited a volume with Nick Shepherd: New South African Keywords.
Collaborative Lab Project
Collaborative Lab Project
Working with local community members, urban planners, and architectural practitioners, you and your fellow students will form small groups of multi-disciplinary teams to collaborate on a design project focused on an aspect of shelter. The collaborative project—the topic of which will emerge from classes, discussions, and educational excursions—will be based in Cape Town.
Previously, students have focused on major urban design proposals in and around the city. The context for the projects highlighted the broader politics of poverty in the Central City Improvement District and the dire struggle for dignified housing in a South African township. In the township of Langa, students worked on innovative strategies for residents who live under the threat of fire. Fires spread easily in overcrowded settlements, and the students’ work focused on developing a contingency plan for mitigating the effects of fire. Moreover, the students’ proposal sought to rethink how shipping containers could be redesigned as emergency shelters. Beyond the design aspects of the project, the students’ work highlighted the complex institutional, social, and political constraints, which maintain a state of vulnerability in Langa.
Meanwhile, in the historic Bo Kaap area of the Central City Improvement District, students worked in an informal settlement known as “the Kraal.” The Kraal is an incredibly impoverished area, where families live in rough shelters and where the “right to the city” discourse plays out, as residents have historically resisted attempts at eviction by the city’s Land Invasion Unit. The residents of the Kraal live with minimal access to municipal services and without any access to social, communal, or recreational programs. SIT students proposed to improve the quality of life for people living in the area by rethinking open spaces as food gardens, producing design proposals for new homes with consideration for the environment, and developing strategies to implement a community center with much needed childcare support and related recreational facilities.
The homestay is an integral part of the SIT experience. During your homestay, you’ll become a member of a local family, sharing meals with them, joining them for special occasions, talking with them in their language, and experiencing the host country through their eyes. Homestay placements are arranged by a local coordinator who carefully screens and approves each family. Students frequently cite the homestay as the highlight of their program. Read more about SIT homestays.
You will have a two-week homestay in Langa, one of the oldest townships (residential areas for non-white people) that emerged following the passage of the Urban Areas Act in 1923. Primarily isiXhosa-speaking, Langa was one of many areas designated for black South Africans. The word langa literally means “sun” but the name of the township actually derives from Langalibalele, a rebel chief imprisoned at Robben Island for rebelling against the government.
Langa was a planned town and looks radically different from informal settlements that dot the Cape Town landscape. It is a vibrant community that values education and sports and has a very strong Christian identity. Families are usually five to six members. Each weekday, students commute to the suburb of Rondebosch for classes; weekends are spent with the host family. An excursion to Robben Island is usually arranged during the Langa homestay; other excursions may include hiking Table Mountain or Lion’s Head or visiting the Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden.
You will stay for one week in Bo Kaap, one of the best known and most photographed areas of Cape Town. It is well known for its rich history and cultural heritage as well as for its brightly colored houses and distinct Georgian architecture that was typical during the area’s development in the early to mid-19th century. Early settlers included slaves from South Asia and the Indian Ocean basin and political prisoners, all of whom influenced the area’s cultural and social practices. Today, Bo Kaap is closely associated with traditional Islam and the Cape Malay community.
Cost and Scholarships
Cost and Scholarships
SIT Study Abroad is committed to making international education accessible to all students. Scholarship awards generally range from $500 to $5,000 for semester programs and $500 to $3,000 for summer programs. This year, SIT will award more than $1.5 million in scholarships and grants to SIT Study Abroad students.
SIT Pell Grant Match Award. SIT Study Abroad provides matching grants to students receiving Federal Pell Grant funding for the term during which they are studying with SIT. This award can be applied to any SIT program. Qualified students must complete the scholarship portion of their application. View all SIT Study Abroad scholarships.
The tuition fee covers the following program components:
Cost of all lecturers / local farmer experts who provide instruction to students in:
- Cost of all lecturers who instruct students in:
- The history and legacies of Cape Town’s racialized spaces, current urban challenges, and community initiatives in urban development
- Social, cultural, and political aspects of the region
- Collaborative project with local community members, urban planners, and architectural practitioners on an aspect of shelter
- All educational excursions to museums, local NGOs, and locations such as the Stellenbosch University and Solms Delta Wine Estate
- Health insurance throughout the entire program period
Room & Board: $1,225
The room and board fee covers the following program components:
- All accommodations during the entire program period
- All homestays (one week in Bo Kaap and two weeks in Langa)
- All meals for the entire program period. Meals are covered by SIT Study Abroad directly, through a stipend, or through the homestay.
Estimated Additional Costs:
International Airfare to Program Launch Site
International airline pricing can vary greatly due to the volatility of airline industry pricing, flight availability, and specific flexibility/restrictions on the type of ticket purchased. Students may choose to take advantage of frequent flyer or other airline awards available to them, which could significantly lower their travel costs.
Books & Supplies: $125
International Phone: Each student must have a phone in each country. Cost varies according to personal preferences, phone plans, data plans, etc.
Personal expenses during the program vary based on individual spending habits and budgets. While all meals and accommodations are covered in the room and board fee, incidentals and personal transportation costs differ depending on the non-program-related interests and pursuits of each student. To learn more about personal budgeting, we recommend speaking with alumni who participated in a program in your region. See a full list of our alumni contacts. Please note that free time to pursue non-program-related activities is limited.
Please Note: Fees and additional expenses are based on all known circumstances at the time of calculation. Due to the unique nature of our programs and the economics of host countries, SIT reserves the right to change its fees or additional expenses without notice.