The barricaded shops of Delft South

Delft, a township on Cape Town’s periphery, is one of South Africa’s first planned multi-racial townships. It is an area with one of the country’s highest crime rates. With a homicide rate of 108 per 100,000 people, the Delft South area has a higher murder rate than a world leader Honduras, which has 90.4 murders per 100, 000 people.

Reported crimes have been on the rise over the past five years, and it is easy to speculate that there are larger numbers of unreported crime in the area.

Crime has had an impact on spaza shops — small grocery stores that operate in residential township areas — in the region, with owners increasingly fortifying their stores.

Between 2010 and 2015, the number of micro-enterprise activities in Delft South doubled, increasing from 879 to 1798, according to research by the Sustainable Livelihoods Foundation, which employed the small area census method. In contrast to this trend, the number of spaza shops declined by 14 percent and consolidated into the hands of a few store-owners.

Ownership bar

Graphs showing ownership distribution by nationality in the spaza sector as compared to other business enterprises in the study area. SLF/Si Maclennan.

Immigrants now operate most spaza shops in Delft South. These shop-keepers are especially vulnerable to crime (robbery in particular) and as a result have taken measures to protect themselves through fortifying their business premises. Several architectural changes are now widely evident at spaza shops. Burglar bars protect doorways and shop-keepers conceal their windows using a mesh of protective steel. Shops feature a serving hatch, which is constructed as an extruding, upward sloping trunk cage through which transactions are conducted.

Shop grill

In Delft South, a spaza shop operator’s hand is visible through his security bars and serving trunk. SLF/Nava Derakhshani.

The trunks act as peepholes with the opening measuring approximately 30 cm x 20 cm, large enough for a loaf of bread to pass through. The trunk cage and its upward slope is intended to prevent robbers from pointing guns at the shop-keeper while simultaneously allowing the shop-keeper an opportunity to take refuge by crouching downwards. The trunk is also intended to minimize shop-theft by customers.

The result of this increased fortification is increased alienation between shop-keepers and their customers. Interpersonal communication is reduced, and the terms of trade are abridged to a simple exchange: money for goods.

Negotiating crime is a part of the lived experience in an urban South African settlement such as Delft South, and the sprouting of caged ‘trunks’ is indicative of increasingly harsh times in which architectural responses to crime are eroding the sociability of neighborhood economies.

A quote from an interview with a business owner in Delft South.

A quote from an interview with a business owner in Delft South.


Nava Derakhshani works for the Sustainable Livelihoods Foundation. She  has a passion for environmental sustainability and believes that social equality and access to resources are significant determinants for ecological care. She is interested in the dynamics and dynamism of urban systems, informality, resilience and food security.

Andrew Charman trained as a sociologist and development economist. His current research focuses on understanding the scope, scale and spatiality of the township informal economy through an examination of area case studies. His interests include studying the dynamics of micro-enterprises / entrepreneurship as well as understanding the politics of informality.

Main photo: A consumer lights his cigarette at a well secured spaza shop with a lighter tied inside the bars. Nava Derakhshani.

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